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What happens when a will with clear intent fails?

By Wesleyan

A life-changing event such as having children or investing in property often prompts many people to write a will...

A life-changing event such as having children or investing in property often prompts many people to write a will to ensure that their most valuable possessions are passed to their chosen family members and friends, when the time comes. You would think that the majority of people would ensure their loved ones inherit their estate, but surprisingly, on average, 52% of people die without making a will in the UK.

Televised programmes such as "Heir Hunters" and "Who do you think you are?" are now very popular and have highlighted the complexities surrounding the subject of inheritance and provided insight into how to trace your ancestry and build family trees. The emergence of companies specialising in genealogy and online access to UK census data, birth, marriage and death records, have made researching your family history significantly easier.

Executors, administrators and their appointed solicitors take on significant responsibilities and potential liabilities during the estate administration process, regardless of whether there is a will or not.  Despite taking the greatest care to ensure that wishes of the deceased are fulfilled whilst balancing the interests of the beneficiaries, they can still face claims from unknown individuals or organisations.

What happens if a missing beneficiary who is entitled to a share appears, who was not known about, before the assets are distributed? Or what happens should a more recent will is discovered, invalidating the first will? Or, as the case study below shows - a will with clear intent fails after being completed incorrectly.


A young soldier had written a will, with a desire to leave his estate solely to his mother. After his death, it was found the will had been completed incorrectly and therefore had failed, leaving his estate to be split between both his mother and father.


A young soldier was shot and killed while posted overseas in a recent conflict. He had left a will which had been arranged by the Army prior to his deployment.  Unfortunately, on the reading of his will after his death, it was immediately apparent it had not been completed correctly and the will had therefore failed.  The soldier had written the name of his mother across the will, but only in the box covering the names of the Executors. The box for beneficiaries' names had been left blank. It was clear though, that the intention of the soldier was to leave his mother his whole estate if he died.

As the will had failed, his estate had to be split equally between his mother and father on an intestacy basis.  The soldier and his mother had not had any contact with his father since he was an infant and did not know of his current whereabouts. 


Following initial enquiries to trace the father, which was unsuccessful, an Executor & Inheritance Protection policy including cover for this specific risk was issued to protect the estate from claims from the soldier's father and to allow for payment of the whole estate to the soldier's mother.


Read more about Executor & Inheritance Protection, or contact the Wesleyan Professional Indemnity Team on 0800 107 1404.

Case Study Source: DUAL Asset Underwriting (DAU)

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