How to lose £200million – don’t make a will!
William Jennens died in 1798 with a vast personal fortune of well over £1million (worth around £200million today). He was an only child and a bachelor who lived alone, so his extended family were naturally intrigued to hear the reading of the will to see how they’d fared.
In fact, while Mr Jennens had made a will, he’d forgotten to sign it.
This of course invalidated the will, which meant Mr Jennens had died ‘intestate’.
Without a valid will the court simply couldn’t legally identify the beneficiaries of the Jennens fortune and, in the resulting confusion, pretty soon anyone who was even a distant relation of Mr Jennens (and plenty who weren’t) were stepping forward to try and claim a share of his astonishingly huge estate.
Claims and counter-claims ensued to try and release the fortune. But there was no legal last will and testament, so it was impossible for the court to be certain of how to distribute any of Jennens’ estate.
Over years and decades, and further complicated by many new claims (which increased as new ‘descendants’ were born), the legal wrangling became more and more entangled.
Until, that is, 117 years later in 1915, when the Jennens estate was finally declared to have been consumed in its entirety to nothing...by all the legal fees that had accrued over the years.
He’d been known as the “richest commoner in England”. His had been the largest personal fortune in the 18th century. And yet without a will, none of it could be released to anyone.
While this is an extreme example, it does very clearly highlight that even the most powerful of people can’t talk their way into a share of someone’s estate if a valid will hasn’t been made.
And yet still many people feel uncomfortable at the idea of doing something that makes plans for what will happen when they die.
Although recent changes in the law have made it a little easier for your family to benefit (particularly if you’re married with children and you want them to inherit everything), the fact is; making a will is still the very best way of ensuring that your loved ones are looked after in precisely the way you want them to be.
Making a will can provide stability and security for the people you care about most, but crucially in exactly the way you want them to be looked after, rather than how the ‘rules of probate’ want to.
If you’re married with your own children then your estate should pass seamlessly to your spouse and children, but there are still legal techniques that can be implemented to maximise what you leave to them. (Ever heard of a Protective Property Trust, for example?)
Getting good advice will explain all the legal techniques that you can use to give your family a better inheritance. Good legal advice can even minimise the tax charged against your estate, leaving you with even more to give to your beneficiaries.
Forgetting to sign your will probably won’t cost your family £200million.
But leaving a valid will does very effectively tie up your loose ends, can minimise inheritance tax, and is almost certainly going to save your loved ones from unnecessary heartache in the future.