Celebrity will mistakes to avoid

Although assumed that those in the public eye are bound to have their affairs in order, they are just as likely to make an error as anyone else when it comes to their will.

For those left behind however, these mistakes can lead to serious repercussions and complications which may continue long beyond death. These dangers – and how to avoid them – can be illustrated in the below examples highlighted by Emma Myers, Solicitor at Saga Legal Services.

Is there a will?

Passing away without a valid wills meant Rik Mayall’s estate was subject to the rules of intestacy. These rules changed in October 2014 and now favour surviving spouses. As Mayall died prior to this change, the older and therefore higher inheritance tax (IHT) level would be payable.

Similarly, this meant that his children would be faced with having to pay IHT due to a portion of his estate automatically going to them. Had it simply been left in a will to his wife, the IHT could have been avoided. Creating a will is the only means of controlling who is entitled to what, as well as the amount. Although IHT may be due where an estate is over the threshold upon death, surviving spouses may be able to inherit tax-free.

Is the will up-to-date?

The importance of regularly updating a will was highlighted following Michael Winner’s death. Disorder is his case resulted from failing to account for IHT and debts into the numerous gifts left within his will. Property he has left was valued at £20 million as opposed to £60 million and cash and other assets left to ex-mistresses and his PA had not been owned outright.

Wills should reflect current circumstances and therefore be kept up-to-date. Should there be any change through marriage, divorce or the birth of children for example, a review may be the appropriate option.

Similarly, leaving gifts as a percentage of total estate value as opposed to a fixed sum will ensure beneficiaries benefit proportionally.

Is the will legally binding?

Ensuring all will documentation will have legal effect is also important. For Princess Diana, a trial of her former butler revealed that she had written a letter of wishes, within which she had divided her estate differently to her will. The will and letter of wishes had however, been written previous to her divorce and thus were outdated. Diana’s chattels were more valuable as a result.

A letter of wishes, is not a legally-binding document and therefore does not need to be considered by the executor. In the case of Diana’s executors – her mother and sister – for example, the request was not followed as it was not legally required to be.

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