Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Battle of wills

I'm always fascinated by battles over wills and inherit-ance. Especially when the legal costs eat up the entire inherit-ance. And especially when nobody will budge an inch.

Peter Burgess's mother changed her will, cutting him out of it and leaving everything to his two sisters, Julia and Libby.

Libby and Peter disputed the new will, claiming their mother was suffering from dementia at the time. Julia insisted she had been quite rational.

When Mrs Burgess died in May 2009 she left around £200,000. But after nearly four years of legal quarrelling, leading to a six-day trial at the English Court of Appeal, that sum has been overtaken by the lawyers' bills.

The Court agreed that Peter Burgess should have been included in the will and that his mother didn't understand the changes she had made.

It astonishes me that people can dig their heels in so stubbornly, to the extent that families are driven apart and absurd amounts of money squandered in the name of pride, greed and self-righteousness.

Just a tiny bit of flexibility and common sense would have avoided the whole debacle and left them all with a handy windfall rather than a gaggle of lawyers looking forward to a fat profit.

Friends and relatives must have urged the three siblings countless times to settle their differences and bring the dispute to an end, but to no avail, and the lumbering machinery of the law took over.

The problem arose of course with the existence of two wills, and the question of which one was valid. Changing one's will is always a hazardous business, liable to just that sort of posthumous wrangling instead of a straightforward transfer of assets.

The strong suspicion is that Mrs Burgess was pressured into making the change, though it seems the court made no comment on that. But it was certainly a change with devastating consequences.

Pic: not the siblings in question

18 comments:

Bijoux said...

I've known people who were angry when they thought they didn't receive enough inheritance. "But I took care of my mother, while none of my siblings did anything, etc.". The reality is, one should never expect anything. You either take care of a loved one because its the right thing to do, or you are doing it for money. If that's the case, charge them rent or whatever. Don't think someone is going to repay you when they die. It just very rarely happens.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I agree. The idea that you're somehow entitled to some sort of inheritance benefit because you did this or that while the person was alive is so calculating. You shouldn't expect anything but what the person thought right and proper.

Whether that was part of the dispute here, I don't know. It's not clear why Julia supported the revised will.

John Gray said...

I have always had the fantasy that a grateful patient will cut all of their loved ones out of their will to leave me a large farmhouse with 12 areas of land..
Is that too much to ask?

Nick said...

John: Well, you never know, stranger things have happened. But you don't mention the £100,000 to do up the farmhouse and fund a few round-the-world trips.

Oh, and I think you must mean acres and not areas....

Grannymar said...

I have a very good friend who read law and specialised in probate. He retired at fifty, as he said, having made his fortune from the mistakes people made in writing their wills. He now divides his life between his homes in Ireland and the south of Spain.

Nick said...

Grannymar: But surely most people go to a solicitor to make their wills, so probably it was a solicitor who made the mistake in the first place? So one solicitor earns money by making mistakes, then another solicitor earns more money by correcting the mistakes....

Secret Agent Woman said...

Estates bring out the ugly in people. I've seen it over and over again in my patients' lives. Sometimes over very piddling amounts. The love of money is the root of all evil. (I know, I know, atheists aren't allowed to quote the Bible.)

Nick said...

Agent: The love of money, along with the love of things, the love of status and the love of attention. And many others! Indeed, we atheists should not be reading anything of a religious nature....

Rummuser said...

The bonding between siblings who inherit nothing is something that siblings who do inherit something must envy!

Nick said...

Ramana: Indeed. Though in this case, Libby was included in the will although Peter wasn't.

Roses said...

It makes me scratch my head at the money-grabbing of some families.

And the feeling of entitlement.

Where does it come from I wonder?

Nick said...

Roses: True, this strange idea of entitlement, as if you're "owed" a heap of money. What a person puts in their will is entirely their own business, they don't owe anything to anybody, unless they decide for themselves to acknowledge someone's help or generosity.

Rummuser said...

What I meant was all the siblings to who the parents leave nothing. The parent/s leave the estate to say a second wife's family. Or when there is no estate to fight over.

Nick said...

Ramana: I see what you mean. Mind you, the siblings might then argue over whether they should have been left something or not.

Liz said...

I'm sure it must be one of the most common reasons for families falling out, arguments over money.

Nick said...

Liz: I think you're right. Greed, penny-pinching, squandering, hoarding - there's plenty of scope for disagreements.

speccy said...

It's amazing how some folk plot and scheme to benefit from the death of their parents. (I know nothing about the case you mention- my comment is one of those awful generalisations)It's as well my family have never had money :)

Nick said...

Speccy: The plotting and scheming is especially odious when those involved have done little to gain money of their own and simply want to grab someone else's.