We here at Busbys wish all our clients and all readers a very Happy New Year. We look forward to being of help to the local community throughout 2019. The New Year is the traditional time to make resolutions and try to put our house in order.
55% of the adult population in the UK have yet to make a Will. You would expect some specific life events, like having children, would encourage people to sit down and have a Will done. However, only 1 in 4 adults with children of 4 years of age or younger have bothered to do a Will. Those who haven’t done a Will, however, are in select company. One needs to look no further than a veritable pantheon of top singers to see that stars dying without having put a Will in place is becoming commonplace. One would have thought with such vast financial resources, especially when musicians’ estates can get royalties for many years after their deaths, would be a great incentive to put their house in order.
We see recently that Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died intestate. At the age of 76 she suffered from pancreatic cancer. There are guestimates of the size of her estate which vary from $80 million to $120 million (and counting). Because she died intestate, her estate under Michigan state law will pass to her 4 sons, who will share her estate equally. She appears to have undertaken no tax planning, so one would expect the estate to bear a very large tax burden indeed. And had she done a Will, would she have left it in equal shares to her sons?
Look then at Prince, the American pop legend, who died in 2016 from an accidental overdose according to his autopsy report. After his death people came out of the woodwork claiming to be a distant relative, a sibling, a child, or even a previously unknown wife! This led to many legal wrangles resolved when a Minnesota probate judge ruled that his sister Tyka Nelson plus 5 of his half-siblings would inherit his fortune, roughly estimated to be worth $200 million. Again, had he been able to do a Will, would he have left his estate to these relatives who benefitted from the local intestacy rules? Jimmy Hendrix too died without putting a Will in place during his lifetime. That resulted in a 30 year squabble involving his siblings. The impasse was resolved when Jimmy’s father Al Hendrix had died in 2002, leaving Jimmy’s sister Janey in control of the $80 million estate.
And what about Bob Marley? He was 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. It is rumoured that they have still not been able to bury him – apparently his coffin keeps jamming! His heirs then battled for more than 30 years to carve up his estate. He left 11 children and a widow, and the result was that his wife Rita only received 10% of Bob’s estate with the 11 children diving the rest between them. Should Rita have got more? If Bob thought so, he should have written a Will.
Then there is Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994 at the age of 27 leaving his widow Courtney Love. Courtney was the primary beneficiary of his publishing rights. Their 18 year old daughter Frances at age 18 took control of her trust fund amounting to more than a third of the estate.
Sonny Bono (of “I got you babe” fame) died from a skiing accident in 1998 at the age of 62. Again he failed to write a Will. His wife Mary filed Court papers to become his personal representative. Then a love child came onto the scene to make a claim – but later withdrew the claim. At the end of the exhausting procedure, Mary divided Sonny’s estate between herself and his two children.
Closer to home is our own Amy Winehouse who died in 2011 aged 27 from alcohol poisoning. It was expected she had a Will in place and there was a vigorous search, but no Will ultimately emerged. Her estate was worth $4.66 million after payment of debts and taxes. As she had no children, the intestacy rules meant that her parents inherited her entire fortune. You will recall there was talk at the time that she had frequently fallen out with her father – an accusation which he vigorously denied.
The end result of the failure by these stars to prepare Wills for themselves left unnecessary problems behind them. In more than half the cases there were family disputes which went on for decades. When families start squabbling, particularly over money, the inevitable result is a falling out and a fracturing of relationships. Many close relationships have broken down entirely. Hopefully none of that would have happened had these stars taken the straight forward and relatively inexpensive step of writing Wills.
At a more mundane level, you have to ask yourself the question is it worth leaving things to chance? Without a Will in place, the Courts will apply the intestacy rules. These rules specifically exclude cohabitees (relationships outside of marriage or civil partnerships). They also exclude step-children. These people are not regarded as family, and therefore have to rely on making an expensive application to the Court under the Inheritance Act 1975 for appropriate provision (which will not be guaranteed).
Under these intestacy rules, if you are married or in a civil partnership and do not have children, your spouse or civil partner will receive everything. If, however, you do have children your spouse or civil partner will receive:- personal possessions; the first £250,000 together with interest on that amount from the date of death; and one-half of anything that remains. Your children will receive the other half of anything that remains. Children in this context includes illegitimate and adopted children, but not step-children.
EFFECT ON COHABITEES
If you are not married or not in a civil partnership and have children, then those children share everything equally between themselves. If you have no children then your parents share everything between them. If there are no children or parents, then everything is shared equally between your full siblings. If there are no full siblings then they are shared equally between your half-siblings. If there are no children, no parents still living and no siblings, and if you have grandparents still living, they share everything equally between themselves. If there are only aunts and uncles left, everything is shared equally between your full aunts and uncles. If there are no full aunts and uncles then everything is shared equally between your half-aunts and uncles. On the bottom line, if there are none of these everything passes to the Crown.
Again I ask, why take the risk? Most particularly, if you are in a relationship outside of marriage or a civil partnership, it is vital that you have a Will in place so that you can protect those you love most. Also remember, that if you have a Will in place and then marry after the date of the Will, marriage automatically revokes a Will (unless the Will states that it is to survive the marriage). So do check if you are in this situation.
We have seen a spluttering response from the Government on family issues. It is slowly emerging from decades of slumber. It recognises the critical need to provide proper legal underpinning of the rights of individuals living together outside the bonds of marriage or civil partnerships. It realises it has not kept pace with the huge shift in society’s attitude towards such relationships yet none of us are holding our breath. There is still a huge gulf between promises of reform and seeing Acts of Parliament giving such people the essential protections they need.
So if you have no Will in place, make it a New Year’s Resolution in 2019 to get a Will done. You can contact me here at Busbys on 01288 35 9000 or e‑mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to see me for this purpose.
Bude & Holsworthy