Wills have developed in law over hundreds of years
“all persons male or female, old or young, lay or spiritual, at any time before their death, whilst they are able to speak so distinctly, or write so plainly that another may understand them, and perceive that they understand themselves, may make wills of their lands, goods and chattels” Jacobs Law Dictionary
In the strictest sense, a “will” has historically been limited to real property (land, buildings etc) while “testament” applies only to dispositions of personal property (personal items etc) thus giving rise to the popular title of the document as “Last Will and Testament”, though this distinction is seldom observed today and are simply known as ‘wills’ to distribute all property owned solely by the testator at death.
Over the centuries wills have been the cause of family feud, fraud and any number of crimes from forgery to murder. They have also made probate practitioners very rich sorting out the mess, especially if they have not been professionally drafted. That is why today our laws are very rigid and complex in relation to wills. Indeed legislation has changed over the years and The Wills Act 1837 affected a vital change in both the making and the interpretation of wills as we know them today.
Many years ago wills were simply deathbed statements made in confidence to the priest. It is worth noting that the church seemed to inherit a strangely large proportion of estates in those days. Eventually two witnesses were required to hear the deathbed statement, and subsequently the church got poorer. Verbal ‘wills’, even when witnessed, were still open to abuse or argument, so it became compulsory for the will to be written down and witnessed by two people. Nowadays the witnesses must not be people who stand to inherit under the terms of a will.
Wills, or indeed the lack of, have formed the basis of many a fascinating story. From Dickens to current TV soap operas, they have made and broken lives, ripped apart families and created millionaires. But as much as people might be fascinated by others’ tales of surprise windfalls or bitter disinheritance, when it comes to our own affairs, it seems the majority suffer a serious case of denial and would rather not prepare for fact that we are all destined for the same fate.
With only three in 10 people in the UK who have a will it is not surprising that the Treasury gains tens of millions of pounds each year from people who died without a will. And yet the fractured nature of modern families and an increasingly litigious society means making a will has never been so important.
For most, making a will is a great opportunity to freely dictate who inherits your money and it is sad that the majority to this day still refuse to utilise it. This means there is a large proportion of adults who die without making a will, called dying ‘intestate’. This is where a will is made for you instead and your money is distributed according to the rules of intestacy. Sadly these rules do not reflect our modern day living and are almost certain to cause upset and uncertainty among those left behind. It is worth bearing in mind that these rules do not recognise unmarried couples or step-children and does not ensure a surviving spouse will receive everything from a deceased spouse either.
If you would like to make a will for the first time, or perhaps review an existing will, then contact Wendy to arrange an appointment to see her.