The Inheritance (warning, may contain spoilers)
When you think of depictions of law on TV you might probably think of a gritty court room drama, however Channel 5 recently brought us “The Inheritance” dealing with death and the subsequent Will dealings.
As a private client lawyer I felt it was my duty to watch it, although really I was anticipating just screaming at the TV saying you’ve got that wrong! I was pleasantly surprised by the content however which covered a lot of the issues which arose, namely:
- Capacity: the deceased was found to be dealing with the onset of dementia and had a suspected alcohol abuse problem. It was confirmed however that despite this, the doctors felt he had capacity to change his Will.
- Deed of variation: whilst the new wife did inherit everything under the new Will, this does not prevent her from changing the disposition and re-directing the inheritance. In fact, had she not met her untimely death, it sounds like this was the route she would have taken.
One thing I cannot abide in any story is the lack of closure. Yes the children were saved from a horrific fiery death but what happened to the money? We are led to believe that this will be tied up in probate for years because the new wife had no Will, but would it? Two things are worth mentioning here:
- The new wife had a son who was fostered (the fake estate agent). Unless he was adopted (which it doesn’t sound like he was) then he would be entitled to her estate under the intestacy laws. That being said, under the little known/used doctrine of forfeiture, a murderer cannot benefit from their murder. So if it is proved that the fake estate agent did kill his mother, then he wouldn’t be able to inherit from his mother. Now if he had children himself, that’s another story.
- Survivorship. We have little concept of time with TV dramas, did the 4 episodes span a few weeks or months? I think everything happened relatively quickly and if that is the case, then we would need to examine the deceased’s Will to see if it included a survivorship clause. Such a clause will often say that to inherit, the beneficiary has to survive the deceased by 30 days. If the new wife did in fact die before the end of any such period then she would be treated as having died before the deceased and the estate would pass to the next named beneficiary. If there was no such back up beneficiary (which would be unusual) then it would be distributed under the intestacy laws and therefore pass to his children in equal shares.
Sadly I fear I will not get the closure I so desperately need. Seriously, is it so hard to fade to black and have some writing on the screen tying up all the loose ends? TV producers, please take note.
The most important thing to take away from this (apart from murder being bad obviously) is that secrets coming to light after a death cause problems. There are ways to address this depending on individual circumstances and these should be explored thoroughly when making your Will.
If you have any queries please contact the Trusts, Wills and Estates Team on 01423 566666
Published on 5 October 2023