Make Sure Your Memories Are Treasured, Not Torn Apart

Father’s Day is that one day every year to celebrate one or more of the special men in your life – whether you are celebrating your father, stepfather, godfather, grandfather or other father figure – it can look different for everyone.

Last Sunday morning in our house there was a tentative knock at the bedroom door, quickly followed by the youngest child bouncing onto the bed to share cuddles with Daddy. A little while later the two teenagers arrived with homemade cards, presents and breakfast in bed, building memories for the future.  Whilst some Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and a leaf blower for the garden seemed the perfect present for their Dad, in a time of uncertainty and with complicated family dynamics becoming more common, what is the greatest gift that a father (or mother) can leave their family?

Nobody knows what the future will hold. People are living longer, divorce cases are on the rise and multiple marriages are increasingly common.  There is no doubt that you would want to ensure that your spouse or partner is provided for if you die first, but it is only natural to want to ensure that when he or she dies your estate eventually passes to your children. If you leave your estate to your spouse it will form part of their assets and then pass to beneficiaries of their choosing when they die. Whilst a lot of us would trust the surviving spouse to do the right thing, this may not always be the case and can leave your children’s eventual inheritance vulnerable. The surviving spouse may have their own children from a previous relationship, or they may meet a new partner and get remarried, and even have more children. With ‘blended’ families often being the norm, it is inevitable that second or subsequent marriages are often giving rise to disputes, heartache, intransigence, and extremely expensive Court hearings.

Take the case of Simon Shepherd whose father Roger remarried a few years after his mother sadly died.  Shortly before Roger died Simon spoke to him about his Will.  His father told him that he was leaving virtually everything to his second wife, and that on her death everything would be split equally between Simon and the son of his second wife; his father and stepmother had made ‘mirror’ Wills to this effect shortly after they married.  According to Simon, he kept in touch with his stepmother after his father’s death. But, unbeknown to him, some years later his stepmother changed her Will, leaving everything to her own son and grandchildren – completely cutting Simon out.  She had left a written note stating that she had done this because he had not been in contact with her, which Simon says was not true.  It was only after she died that he found out about her new Will and, although he wrote to his stepbrother to explain his position, he got nowhere. His stepmother had the right to change her Will if she chose, and had the right to leave her own son all she had (including assets inherited from Simon’s father). Had Simon’s father drawn up a more suitable Will for someone in his situation, this could not have happened.

Celebrities very often fall into the same trap…people like the actor Peter Sellers. Although he was very wealthy when he died from a heart attack at the age of only 54, a strange combination of circumstances resulted in most of his fortune being inherited by someone he had never met and to whom he was unrelated (except by marriage). When Peter Sellers died he was estranged from his 4th wife, the actress Lynne Frederick. Divorce proceedings are believed to have commenced, but he had not got around to making a new Will even though apparently he had arranged to do so the following week.

Accordingly, most of his fortune (estimated to be around £4.5million…in 1980!) passed to his estranged wife. Although friends contacted Lynne Frederick with a view to passing some to his three children, she is understood to have refused. With the right Will in place, even though Peter Sellers had separated from his wife, his children could have received their rightful inheritance while his estranged wife would also have had sufficient assets on which to live. Instead, when Lynne Frederick died 14 years later at only 39 years of age, having been married a further two times, what was left of the fortune passed to her daughter Cassie, who was born three years after Peter Sellers died.  Meanwhile, his three children had received only £800 each!  As Inspector Clouseau he might have looked more closely at his options when making his Will.

With changing family circumstances, sophisticated Wills have been developed to ensure that whilst still providing for the surviving spouse during their lifetime, you are safe in the knowledge that your estate will eventually end up with your children. In addition, these sophisticated Wills have the double bonus of ensuring that no Inheritance Tax is payable on first death with the mechanism that considerable amounts of tax, which would otherwise be payable on second death, is possibly saved.  Whilst it is appreciated that this can be a difficult subject to raise with your spouse, you really mustn’t put off getting the right advice and putting it into practice to ensure that those happy memories already created live on and are not replaced by months or years of family disputes and legal wrangles.

As specialists in this area of law, please do not hesitate to contact us for a no obligation free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

Samantha Anastasiou – Solicitor