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Prepare a Will to ‘ensure certainty’ warns expert

An expert has warned people to make a Will to seek to ensure certainty over what happens to their assets when they die – following a high profile case.

Two animal charities won a case against the relative of an elderly donor to take ownership of a £350,000 property.

The donor’s nephew had claimed the house, in Hertfordshire, should be his, after he alleged that his aunt had made a ‘deathbed gift’ before she died.

However, the aunt’s Will had left the property to charities and the Appeal Court agreed that the property should pass to the charities under the Will and overturned an earlier High Court decision which had given the property to the nephew.

Now Stephanie Kerr, solicitor in the Litigation team at Napthens solicitors, has warned that in order to prevent uncertainty and disputes after death, it is always better to ensure that a proper Will is drawn up and regularly updated.

She explained anybody who does find themselves in such a difficult situation should also seek advice from a solicitor who specialises in contested probate litigation because unfortunately the family solicitor or the solicitor who drew up the Will is unlikely to have the necessary expertise to deal with a complex dispute of this sort.

Stephanie said: “The nephew alleged his aunt had made a ‘deathbed gift’ of the property but his evidence was rejected by the Appeal Court. His aunt’s house had in fact been gifted to charities under her last Will.

“There are some circumstances where someone may give his or her property to another person on their deathbed, but there are very strict conditions which must be satisfied and very good evidence needed to demonstrate a gift has been made in this way.

“The evidence of the nephew was insufficient, unreliable and it could not be independently corroborated.

“This highlights the importance of both making a last Will which is independently prepared by solicitors and properly executed so as to ensure validity of that document, and of seeking legal advice at an early stage.

“Reliance on an alleged deathbed gift will always be uncertain and will always be expensive to pursue and the earlier an expert is consulted the better.”

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