Writing a will

Writing a will

By Emma Myers, Head of Wills, Probate and Lifetime Planning for Saga Legal Services

Rich and good looking, celebrities may seem to have it all. When it comes to estate planning however, they are just as prone to making mistakes as the rest of us. Sometimes these mistakes come back to haunt their nearest and dearest in ways they don't expect, as these examples of celebrity Wills demonstrate.

Amy Winehouse

Shortly after Amy's untimely death in 2011, it emerged she had died without making a valid Will. This meant her estate, worth over £4million, was subject to the strict rules of intestacy - which outline who inherits and how much - and a hefty Inheritance Tax (IHT) bill, meaning her estate dwindled by approximately £1m.

Although the rules of intestacy changed in October 2014, Amy's estate was dealt with under the old rules. Consequently, her assets passed to her parents, meaning her brother and ex-husband - it's been speculated she still loved him and would have left him a gift, if she made Will - failed to inherit. The key point to take away is that having a Will is absolutely vital as it's the only way to control over who inherits your legacy and how much.

Princess Diana

During the trial of her former butler Paul Burrell in 2003, it transpired Diana had written a letter of wishes requesting that her estate be divided differently than specified in her Will so that her 17 godchildren became beneficiaries.

However, since the Will and the letter of wishes had been written prior to her divorce and not updated, Diana's chattels became a great deal more valuable. Consequently, her mother and sister, acting as her executors did not follow this request and were not legally obliged to do so.

It should be pointed out a letter of wishes is not a legally-binding document and anything in it can be disregarded by the executors. If you have any bequests of a financial nature, ensure you include them in your Will. A letter of wishes is, however, useful for making requests that cannot be legally enforced and for things like funeral arrangements.

Michael Winner

After his death, it transpired his estate had not only been left in disarray, but was considerably smaller than most imagined. The property he left to his widow Geraldine, which he believed to be valued at £60m, was actually only worth £20m as the lease was running out. Winner also left his personal assistant and two ex-mistresses, cash and property only for them to discover they were not owned outright but heavily mortgaged.

In this case, Winner neglected to factor in his numerous debts, as well as IHT, into the gifts he was leaving behind in his Will. Updating your Will every two years or sooner is vital so it reflects your current circumstances, and don't leave gifts that can't be given. It can also be a good idea to leave bequests, not as a fixed sum, but as a percentage of the total value of the estate. Therefore, if the estate is less valuable than you think, the beneficiaries will still benefit in proportion.

A Will is one of the most important legal documents. As we've seen, without one your loved ones' financial future could be at risk of financial uncertainty, emotional turmoil or long-drawn-out disputes. It's also important to note, when drawing up a Will always to shop around and agree a fixed fee in advance so costs don't escalate. If you worried about this do draw up a Will or review your current one. For more information about Wills and your options, contact Saga Legal Services on 0800 656 9927 or visit www.saga.co.uk/legal to buy online.