A recent battle between the RNLI and a disinherited daughter shows just how important it is to have a professionally drafted Will.
The facts of the case
The dispute arose after Brian Cole committed suicide in 2013, aged 70. He had drafted a Will just weeks before his death, leaving £5,000 to his daughter, Sonya Young. The rest of his estate, which amounted to approximately £268,000, was gifted to the lifeboat charity. Mr Cole was himself a former lifeboatman, and requested that his assets be given to his old lifeboat station in Penarth, near Cardiff.
His daughter, Ms Young, disputed the Will. She said that her father was not in his right mind when drafting the Will. She pointed to the fact that he killed himself just weeks later, indicating that he was deluded. Interestingly, this was also Mr Cole’s third iteration of his Will. The first, drafted in 2008, had named Ms Young as the sole beneficiary. Ms Young gave up her job to focus on the legal dispute, which was recently heard in the High Court.
The judge found in favour of the RNLI. He said Mr Cole had made a conscious decision to disinherit his daughter. This was supported by a letter written by Mr Cole, explaining the reasons for his decision. The judge also highlighted that the Will had been drafted by an “experienced solicitor”, who confirmed Mr Cole has been “entirely lucid” when signing the Will.
Ms Young paid £214,000 to the RNLI after the High Court hearing. She has been ordered to pay the remaining £54,000 plus interest, along with £9,047 in court fees. A charging order has been placed on Ms Young’s house, meaning if she sells or re-mortgages her home, the proceeds will be used to pay the debt.
The importance of a professionally drafted Will
The case demonstrates how much weight the courts place on a professionally drafted Will. The judge concluded that the terms of Mr Cole’s Will were “clear”. He also emphasised that the Will was “…valid, rational on its face, and prepared by an experienced solicitor” who knew Mr Cole, and who believed Mr Cole to be of sound mind. For these reasons, the judge said there was “no realistic prospect of Ms Young being able to challenge the 2013 Will.”
DIY Wills, on the other hand, are often ambiguous. They might also lack the safeguards Mr Cole put in place, such as a letter of wishes, explaining why someone has been disinherited. Crucially, DIY Wills do not involve the use of a professional. This makes it easier for disgruntled beneficiaries to question the testator’s state of mind, and there may be little evidence to counter their claim.
If you want to be certain that your wishes will be fulfilled after your death, we recommend asking an experienced solicitor to draft your Will. This ensures that, like Mr Cole, the terms of your Will are fulfilled.