Contentious issues on the cobbles

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The death of Aidan Connor is a soap tragedy that has left the nation weeping but there are some useful reminders about the importance of having an up to date Will and the options that might be available for challenging Wills.

For those of you who don’t watch Coronation Street, Aidan Connor owned a minor shareholding in an underwear factory. The shares were worth very little at the time he made his Will and he left all of his shares to one of the factory workers rather than his family. Due to a complicated subplot involving Aidan giving a kidney to his ailing sister who owned the rest of the shares in the factory, he was given all the shares after making his Will before his recent soap suicide.

His family are unsurprisingly aghast at the fact that they won’t be inheriting the shares and have been exploring whether they might be able to challenge Aidan’s Will.

By their very nature soaps dramatise situations that could arise in the lives of their viewers and this is no exception. Although hopefully most people will never find themselves in the same situation as Aidan or his family, disputes about Wills are very common. An inheritance is often the only lump sum people can expect to receive in their lifetime and people are understandably keen to protect this.

Aidan’s family are taking advice from the Street’s resident jack of all trades solicitor but what can people really do to minimise the drama in these situations?

Changing value of assets

At the time he made his Will, Aidan’s shares were worth very little but by the time of his death, the value of the shares had increased significantly.

Aidan’s family have been questioning whether they can challenge the Will on the basis that surely Aidan didn’t mean to leave such a valuable asset and a share in the family business to one of the factory workers to the exclusion of his own family.

Unfortunately for the Connor family, the change in value on its own is not a valid reason for challenging a Will. Provided the deceased understood the extent of the property which he was disposing of at the time of the Will, it is irrelevant if that property has increased in value by the time of death.

However, Aidan’s situation is a reminder that the value of an asset can change significantly following the execution of a Will and the distribution of it to the beneficiary under the Will could end up being more generous gift than originally intended. It is therefore worth reviewing Wills and assets on a reasonably regular basis to ensure that they still reflect your wishes.

Capacity to make a Will

One potential ground for challenge the Connors may have is Aidan’s mental capacity to make the Will.

In order for a Will to be valid, the testator must have had the necessary mental capacity at the time of making the Will. The test for capacity was set out in a case called Banks v Goodfellow and broadly requires:

  1. the testator to understand:
    1. the nature of his act and its effects;
    2. the extent of the property of which he is disposing;
    3. the claims to which he ought to give effect; and
    4.  that no disorder of the mind shall poison the testator’s affections, pervert his sense of right or his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal which would not have been made had he have been of sound mind.

Aidan sent his father a letter suggesting some suicidal thoughts around the time of making his Will so is this enough for the Connors to challenge the Will?

In reality there would need to be evidence to show that Aidan didn’t satisfy the above tests at the time of making his Will and a letter might not be enough. In this context, the testimony of the witness to his Will (Sophie Webster) might be key.

It is important to think carefully about the possible consequences of challenging the validity of a Will before doing so. If a Will is found to be invalid, the distribution of the deceased’s estate will be governed by any valid pre-existing Will or failing that, the intestacy rules. For potential beneficiaries it is only worth challenging a Will if they would receive something in the alternative scenario.

Inheritance Act Claims

The other option for Aidan’s family is a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act commonly known as an Inheritance Act claim.

This allows people with certain relationships to the deceased to bring a claim on the basis that the deceased’s estate fails to make reasonable financial provision for them.

Recent case law suggests that the court will consider a wide range of factors in determining what amounts to “reasonable” provision particularly where the claimant is an adult of independent means.

Aidan’s family may have claims but some of them are comfortably well off and arguably Aidan’s Will, in which they didn’t receive anything, already made reasonable provision for them.

The Connor family situation is a tragic one and illustrates how disputes about Wills can cause further upset and discord at an already difficult time. It is therefore important to get expert advice if you are considering challenging a Will to ensure that you pursue the correct course of action in a manner that minimises upset and costs.

If you need advice on a Will or possible probate claim, please contact Alex Blenkinsop on [email protected] or 0191 211 7997.