Once upon a time got a telephone call from some journalist. She was writing on wills. She was writing about beneficiaries in wills . To enliven the piece, she asked me: ‘Could you tell me about any unusual inheritances or bequests you’ve dealt with?’
My response was: ‘There should be nothing unusual or surprising in a will. Seeking to surprise people in your will is merely planting the seeds of dispute. [Deliberate] surprises in a will are an act of foolishness tantamount to wickedness. Only a fool would leave a surprise in such an important document’, the conversation lasted less than a minute.
Remember the celebrity steeplejack Fred Dibnah? Fred had five children by the time he married Sheila. Sheila was his third wife. Sheila and Fred had a son. Fred surprised her by leaving her nothing. His will split his estate among his older children. You don’t need me to tell you he created a situation ripe with strife.
Surprise Beneficiaries in Wills
It’ll end in tears – it’ll end in court.
You’re sufficiently street wise to know ‘I’ll see you in court’ is merely the grown-up version of ‘I’ll tell mum’.
Surprises would cause everyone to think of the deceased as pyromaniac, as an arsonist who had been let loose in the castle that was familial harmony. The castle features a moat filled with paraffin. Scant surprise at the resulting conflagration.
Here’s What I Tell Every Client
I tell every client: ‘this is what I tell every client, let the important people know there is a will, let them know where to find it, tell them what is in it.’
If they convey any reluctance on the third point, even my merely their facial expression, then, a red flag begins to flutter in my belly. I tell them to move along, to find someone else, that they need someone who cares nothing for his client’s familial happiness. I suggest they find a charlatan.
I’m put in mind of the barrister, Barbara Rich: ’I always tell parties at mediation to read the comments on a Daily Mail inheritance story and then try and imagine how they’d feel about similar comments made on their own case.’
Maybe that was how the testator would have wanted to be remembered after their death. In which case, surprise away, but, be sure it’ll end in tears.Tags: contested probate, Will Writing, wills