When things get complicated

Wilson Browne

26th April 2016

Legal Briefing

Wilson Browne

IN a twist of fate even Homer Simpson himself could not have dreamt up, the ex-wife of Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon and his girlfriend have both filed claims against his $100 million estate. Simon, who died in March 2015, left his fortune to charities and good causes but both women claim to have a stake in his estate.
It is not just celebrity estates that are the subject of claims. Increasingly complex family arrangements mean that disputes like this are on the rise.
The recent case of Williams v Martin highlights the very difficult situation that loved ones can face following a death. In that case, Joy Williams had lived with her partner Norman Martin for 18 years but he never divorced his wife. On his death his share of the house in which they lived passed to his wife because he had not updated his will despite his lengthy and "loving and committed' relationship with Joy Williams.
Court proceedings ensued and ultimately the court decided that Joy Williams should inherit Mr Martin's share of the house they occupied, protecting the roof over her head. Common sense prevails you may think, but at a (legal) cost.
Lawyers up and down the country are seeing an increasing number of claims arising as a result of second families. Children from a first marriage can often see their intended legacy go to their parent's second spouse. Claims arise where the step-parent then leaves their estate only to their own children, bypassing the children of the first marriage entirely, or where the step-parent forms a new relationship and the deceased parent's legacy fades into a mingling of new finances.
The importance of making a carefully thought out and properly explained Will has never been more obvious. The more complicated the family arrangement, the more careful the Will must be, with thought given to the means by which everyone who should benefit can be provided for.
Where proper provision is not made - leaving a spouse or partner without somewhere to live or the means to pay for it, or ignoring children who should be maintained by the deceased parent - claims can be made. This is not a case of challenging the validity of the Will, though of course that can be done where necessary, but of making out a claim for financial dependency. That dependency may be short-lived or life-long but time limits apply so action must be taken quickly.
Avoiding a Homer-esque "D'oh!' moment means thinking ahead - whether you are making a Will or challenging one.
For more information about claims against estates or to challenge a will contact Jennifer Laskey, Partner at Wilson Browne Solicitors on 01604 876697, by email at jlaskey@wilsonbrowne.co.uk or by visiting www.wilsonbrowne.co.uk.