Tough times can make us reflect on the inevitable and the need to provide for future generations in our Wills but many people never actually get round to making one.
Even the weather helped to pile on the pressure last year, particularly for farmers. Relentless rain ruined crops and there will be no prizes for predicting food prices will rise this year.
However, let me pose this question. What would you do with £10m if you had been brought up in abject poverty in the 1930s and the first time you had new clothes and your own bed was when you did your National Service?
Dr George Daniels CBE, the greatest watchmaker of his time, was faced with this dilemma when he gave instructions for his Will. He died on 21 October 2011 and I was curious to know who he remembered.
That’s my first point – a Will is a public document (once Probate has been granted) and I was able to obtain a copy of his Will from the High Court of Justice in the Isle of Man where Dr Daniels lived.
Earlier last year I visited the National Gallery to see the Turner exhibition and, to my surprise, there was a copy of the artist’s Will on display. I was struck by the significance of the document. Bound with ribbon and sealed with wax, it dealt with every aspect of his estate even to the detail of how his paintings should be viewed.
We still use ribbon and wax at Raworths. Not because we are old fashioned but because they emphasise the importance of the document. A Will really is your last testament and it requires careful thought. Perhaps this is why according to Standard Life research 57% of UK adults have no Will. It can be really difficult to decide what is best and this is especially so for farmers who may have farming and non-farming children to think about.
The frustrating thing is, however, problems do not go away if you ignore them and whilst intestacy may work for some people it is generally a disaster for farmers.
Property that is in joint names (as joint tenants) passes by survivorship and not by your Will. So the young married couple with everything in joint names may manage without Wills. Once children come along and individuals start building up assets in their own names intestacy can cause problems.
Now for the science bit. A farm may have been passed down through the generations so may be owned by just one party to the marriage. If the farmer has children the surviving spouse would be entitled to the personal belongings and £250,000. The remaining estate would then be split in two. The surviving spouse is entitled to the income generated from one half with the capital passing to the children equally on the second death. The other half is inherited by the children immediately. The surviving spouse can elect to take the matrimonial home in lieu of cash but generally the farm has to be sold to pay out the children.
So what did Dr Daniels do? Well, he left a few personal bequests and £1m in trust for his family. With the rest (and his watch and clock collection sold for over £8m last November at Sotheby’s) he established The George Daniels Educational Trust to further the higher education of pupils intending to study horology, engineering, medicine, building or construction.
How did you answer the question?
William Kinread is a partner at Raworths LLP and a solicitor specialising in agriculture, wills, trusts and probate. To contact Raworths telephone 01423 566666 or visit our offices at Eton House, 89 Station Parade, Harrogate, HG1 1HF. Alternatively, you can email email@example.com