Questions of Cash: Where there's a will, there's a beneficiary

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The Independent Online

Q. My friend is 88 and lives alone in her own home. The house was placed in trust for the benefit of her oldest son who was disabled, but who died three years ago. Her middle son died four years ago. She says her remaining son will become the sole beneficiary, but surely the middle son's children should inherit half?
PF, by e-mail.

Q. My friend is 88 and lives alone in her own home. The house was placed in trust for the benefit of her oldest son who was disabled, but who died three years ago. Her middle son died four years ago. She says her remaining son will become the sole beneficiary, but surely the middle son's children should inherit half?
PF, by e-mail.

A. This depends on the terms of your friend's will and of the trust. Robert Brodrick, specialist in wills and trusts at Trowers & Hamlins, says: "The general principle is that we are free to give away our assets on our death as we choose by making a valid will. But somebody who has been maintained by the deceased may make a claim against the estate. Assuming your friend does not maintain her grandchildren, she can cut them out of her will without risk of a claim against her estate, leaving her third son as sole beneficiary. She is not, however, free to dispose of the house by will if this is held in trust. The trust deed will govern what happens to the house on your friend's death. If your friend already has a will and has left anything to any of her sons, under s33 Wills Act 1837 her grandchildren will step into their parents' shoes and inherit in their place if they have already died, unless anything to the contrary appears in the will."

Q. I want to know about the grounds for challenging the will of a friend of my family. In her final years she developed senile dementia. Her husband had set-up a trust fund for her, but she apparently left her estate to a family friend who cared for her in her last years. One of the named witnesses, a relative, is adamant he did not witness the will and says it is a forgery. I have asked the Court Service about how to challenge it but it told me to get legal advice, which is unfair as the people affected are pensioners.
SS, Wokingham.

A. "Get to see actual copies of the couple's wills and talk to their family," says Stephen Pallister, tax and trusts partner at Charles Russell. "A grant of probate should have been taken out in at least one of the estates to deal with the couple's home. Contact the the Probate Registry's helpline (0845 302 0900), your local Registry or visit www.courtservice.gov.uk. Through the Registry you can get copies of the grants of probate taken out for either or both of the husband and wife's estates and get copies of the wills. The grants will tell you the value of the estates and the representatives.

Looking at the wills you will see the exact terms and who were the two witnesses. If your relative's signature is there it seems a clear issue of forgery, a criminal offence. You could make contact with the other witness, to see what they say. Both witnesses must have witnessed at the same time as the husband/wife signed for the wills to be valid. You could also contact the solicitors (if any) who drew up the wills. But my advice is not to go further once you have established your relative's signature is there.

If after inspecting the wills you are still suspicious, contact the couple's family and they should take specialist legal advice. There may be considerable financial benefit to the family if the wills can be overturned.

Q. My wife and I sold our business in 1997 when we were 40, each investing £200,000 in pensions. Since then we have not worked and paid no National Insurance. The State Pension Service gave me a forecast advising that I need to pay £350 for each missed year to guarantee a full pension. Is this wise? SW, Dartmouth.

A. Yes - the potential benefits are much greater than the costs. Steve Rilley of independent financial advisers Chartered Investments says: "With private pension funds possibly unable to sustain you through a long retirement, it makes sense to consider topping up your state pension. By concession, you are currently able to go back to 1996/97. The cost for the current year is £371.80 increasing your inflation-linked entitlement by at least £82.68 each year. Your wife could also benefit from age 60 as she was born before April 1950."

* Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail: cash@independent.co.uk. Please send copies, not originals.

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