An interesting article recently featured in the press, detailing a family feud that occurred between Venetia Murray and her brother, Dale Brunt, over the £2 million inheritance of their brother Dean, who died tragically in an accident at the age of 35.
The three siblings collectively owned a farm in England worth a total of around £6 million and following Dean's death, attention quickly turned to the matter of whether or not Dean had a Will stipulating who should inherit his fortune.
Dean's mother, Marlene Brunt, took over the handling of her son's estate and, seemingly without much consideration, proceeded on the basis that Dean died intestate (without a Will). She accordingly inherited his entire estate in line with English laws of succession and she then gifted Dean's share in the farm to Dale, thereby giving him two thirds of the ownership to Venetia's one third.
More than 10 years on, however, it transpired that Dean did in fact leave a Will which had been misplaced by his solicitor. It was only discovered when the solicitor's cat knocked over a pile of papers in her office waiting to be destroyed. Despite the time period and allegations that the Will was forged, the High Court in London confirmed its validity and ordered Dean's £2 million share in the farm to be divided equally between Venetia and Dale, giving them equal ownership of the farming estate.
Does your solicitor have a modern filing system?
This peculiar case, of course, serves as an important reminder to all solicitors to ensure proper filing and recording procedures are in place. For example, at Harper Macleod, we have an organised system whereby all of our clients' signed documents are scanned onto an electronic filing system and the principal Deeds are then logged, recorded and stored in our fireproof safe in alphabetical order. A file note recording that the Deeds have been sent to the store is saved to the electronic file so we can trace the date on which the Deeds were stored, and the staff member who handled them. In this way, we can quickly identify the Will of a deceased as well as any other documents we hold for them.
The importance of having a valid Will
The more crucial point to take away from the Brunt case, however, is the importance of having a valid Will in place.
By recording your wishes in a Will, you can avoid the anguish not to mention the time and cost suffered by the Brunt family in this scenario. While it is imperative for everyone to have a valid and up-to-date Will, it is particularly significant for those who have substantial wealth, to ensure this wealth passes within their control to the people they would like to benefit.
Just like the rules in England, Scots law of intestate succession takes a particular order, dictating how your estate should be divided if you die without a Will. This could lead to estranged or disliked family members inheriting your assets even if it is clear that you would not have wanted that to happen. By preparing a Will, you therefore retain control and are able to opt out of the default position.
Get in touch - we're here to help
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog or would like to either update your Will or put one in place, our dedicated private client team will be delighted to help.
Elgin: 01343 542623
We have solicitors and offices across the country and are ready to help.
We can provide the assistance you need to protect your assets and your loved ones. This will allow you to put your mind at ease, knowing everything is in hand.