The following article has been extracted from Wales Online:
During a newspaper interview this week Lynda Bellingham’s sons Michael and Robbie Peluso revealed their mother’s husband, Michael Pattemore, was given complete control over her estate following her death in 2014.
Both men claimed they have received just £750 each in the past two years, and have accused their step-father of squandering ‘thousands from their mother’s estate’.
The actual content of the Will isn’t clear; however this high-profile dispute highlights a situation many people could face following the death of a close friend or relative.
If the allegations are true, on the face of it this is actually a relatively simple case of a person leaving their estate to a spouse to deal with it as they see fit
What the law says
Irrespective of how some may see this morally, legally we are entitled to leave our assets to whomever we wish, and, if we want to, exclude our children and close family members. However, when adult children from a previous marriage are involved this can lead to difficult situations such as those experienced by Michael and Robbie Peluso.
In those circumstances, even if the contents of the Will are clear, other legal avenues are often explored which can often leave families battling long after their loved one has died.
When Wills are invalid or void
For example, Wills which are on the face of it perfectly valid can be deemed invalid. In those cases an earlier Will will come back into play or, failing that, assets will be shared according to UK laws.
A Will can be invalid if, for example, the person is deemed mentally incapable due to an illness such as Alzheimer’s, or as may be the case in the circumstance of Lynda Bellingham’s family, there are suspicions that the content may have arisen as a result of undue influence.
Alternatively, in a marketplace where online will services and DIY template kits are increasingly popular, it’s easy to create a will without the right professional advice. Wills may then not meet the strict legal requirements and be void.
If people are left out
In other circumstances, people who feel they are entitled to an inheritance have an option to ask the court to review the position if they feel they have been unjustly left out of an estate. This is open to certain family members of the deceased (including children such as Lynda Bellingham’s sons) and also people who were financially dependent on the deceased.
Ultimately, if an agreement cannot be reached between the person looking for further entitlement and the people who benefit under the Will, then the court will determine the matter.
Finally, there may be external arrangements which override the terms of a Will. For example, if one person lends money to another to buy a house then they may be entitled to the property even if they haven’t been mentioned in the Will.
Alternatively, if somebody has promised an asset to somebody else then, in certain circumstances, this may override a gift to somebody else in the will.
In the vast majority of cases a properly executed and professionally drafted will is sufficient to give effect to your wishes. Sometimes, however and as Lynda Bellingham’s family are now discovering, the position can be more complicated. For that reason it is very important to ensure that you obtain proper legal advice on all of your circumstances when making a Will.
If you or a family member would like advice on a Wills & Probate matter then call our experienced Wills & Probate Team on 02920 484550.