A national law firm has analysed a recent High Court case to examine what can happen when a will does not cover a number of scenarios, including the unexpected death of beneficiaries.

The case in question centred on who should inherit the estates of a married couple who passed away within months of each other – Margaret and Alan, who each died within months of each other at the age of 71 in 2019. The couple had no children and each left behind a Will appointing the other as the sole executor and sole beneficiary.

An analysis by Clarke Willmott LLP revealed:

“When Margaret died of cancer in February 2019, Alan visited his solicitor to make a new Will but did not execute it before he died of a heart attack in May 2019.

“This meant that Alan’s estate, including that which he inherited from his wife, passed under the laws of intestacy to his next of kin, namely his brother, sister and nephews.

“The dispute arose when Margaret’s brother and sister claimed the couple made ‘deathbed’ gifts to them before they died, but Judge Jarman ruled that the purported gifts did not meet the definition of deathbed gifts.

“As Alan had not updated his Will following his wife’s death, his entire estate was distributed according to the law of intestacy because his will did not provide for what should happen if he died after his wife.”

Carol Cummins, a private wealth team leader within the firm, commented:

“A good will should deal with any number of ‘what if’ scenarios. The likelihood of the sole beneficiary, whether that be a spouse or otherwise, also dying at the same time or shortly after is a big consideration.”

Unfortunately, this scenario looks set to be played out again, as recent research has shown that the number of people dying without setting out their last wishes jumped by 60% across England and Wales between March and May last year in the first lockdown, compared to the same period in 2019.

41% of councils experienced a rise in the number of people dying without a will, with some areas seeing the number triple – and with 12% of councils reporting intestate deaths for the first time.