Doing something great with your Last Will and Testament

There have been some wonderful examples recently of people using their Last Will and Testament to make lasting change in the World. The first one I saw was “Town is left £2m legacy by terminally ill banker to help keep it ‘beautiful’. According to the article “When banker Keith Owen was diagnosed with cancer and given only eight weeks to live, he started to think of ways to leave his mark. In the end he said it with flowers – one million of them to be precise – leaving them to the seaside town he had fallen in love with. Shortly before his death, Mr Owen, 69, a Canadian citizen, took the astonishingly generous decision to change his will and leave his £2.3million fortune to Sidmouth in Devon.” He now wants residents of the town to embark on a project to plant 1 million bulbs.

Then there was the story of an elderly lady who left an alarm clock to a hospital, but in it, she had stuffed $10k in cash and a $7k gold bar.

In Wales, Bob and Flora Livsey left £550,000 to go towards services at Glan Clwyd Hospital, Bodelwyddan. It will help fund a catheter laboratory which is due to open next year.

And then, a couple of weeks ago the story of the Toronto Woman, who left her life savings to police dogs and horses. This story in particular describes something of the thought processes behind charitable bequests;

“She’d earlier intended to leave her money to an animal sanctuary, but changed her mind after reading an unfavourable story about it in the newspaper. She then decided to give it to the Toronto Zoo. But again changed her mind after reading a story about the elephants leaving the zoo.”

The article also explains the lack of constraints imposed by the legacy “she wasn’t specific about how the money was to be used — just that it was to benefit the care of the 27 police horses and 32 police dogs. Police have been looking at several options, such as new saddle blankets for the horses. “It’s things like that which really fit into the spirit of what she wanted, I feel this is a real responsibility she’s entrusted me to look after … these are her life savings, so it certainly makes us feel even more concerned that it goes to what she wanted.’”

These few examples demonstrate how much positive difference can be made when preparing one’s Will. For many people, money is tight, and finding spare funds for charitable donations throughout the year can be challenging. But including a legacy within a Will is a painless way to show your appreciation for an organization that has touched your life.

You can make a Will in about 20 minutes at www.legalwills.ca, www.legalwills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com, and within that document, it is easy to set up a charitable bequest either as a fixed amount, or as a percentage or your estate.

You don’t need much to leave a lasting legacy

We often hear people say that they don’t have a Will because they don’t have much to leave. In a previous article we explained how this excuse is a poor one, as a Will isn’t supposed to come into effect the day it is written, but at some point, hopefully in the distant future. Put simply, you have absolutely no idea what your estate may be worth, and it is very common for a person’s estate to be worth far more after they have passed away, than they were ever worth during their lifetime.

Last week though we were reminded of how modest legacies can make a real difference. Charities work hard to promote legacy donations, and there is no doubt that even the most wealthy charities gratefully accept $100 or £100 donations. However, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate how a small legacy can make a difference to a billion dollar charity.

Last week, the story of  Aaron Collins reminded us that you can be smart with your legacy gifts and make real differences with a modest amount of money. As a 30 year old cancer patient, Mr Collins knew he was going to die, but he didn’t have a huge net worth, his own brother said that he “didn’t have the money to take care of himself while he was alive”, but he believed in random acts of kindness and explained in his Will that he wanted his family to go out for pizza and leave the waitress “an awesome tip…..I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza for a waiter or waitress”. So his brother set up a blog asking for donations to respect Aaron’s wishes and money has started to roll in. When you watch the video of the waitress’ reaction you can’t help but be touched. It is inspiring to see how creative you can be with your Will to make a difference to people’s lives. Whether it’s buying a goat for a family in a developing country for just $75, or setting up a scholarship fund or prize at your old high school for $100.

Please feel free to add some great ideas below; what is the biggest bang for the buck you can get when leaving a legacy?

And if you have now been convinced that you don’t need to be wealthy to write a Will, you can prepare one in about 20 minutes for $34.95 at LegalWills.ca and USLegalWills.com and for £24.95 at LegalWills.co.uk. If you haven’t given as much to charity during your lifetime, maybe a legacy gift is something worth considering.

Challenges to Wills…Sir Jimmy Saville’s estate frozen.

In a previous blog article we explained the different grounds for a successful challenge to a Will. We thought that this was an important article as it is often cited as a reason for not writing your own Will. Many times we have seen lawyers claim that if you write your own Will or use a service like the one at LegalWills, then your Will is more likely to be challenged. In our previous article we explained that there are five key grounds for a challenge (see the original article for a more detailed description);

  • Mental capacity: The person making the Will must understand that they are indeed writing and signing their Will
  • Undue influence: In order to contest a will on the ground of undue influence, it must be shown that the testator did something contrary to his or her true desires.
  • Improper execution of the Will: This varies by jurisdiction but in general the document must be signed in the presence of two or three witnesses who are not beneficiaries in the Will
  • Fraud: This can take many forms from the falsification of documents including forged signatures
  • No provision for dependents: This varies widely across jurisdictions but there are sometimes people who have to be included in a Will.

Last week, we saw an example of the “no provision for dependents” in the case of Sir Jimmy Saville. A three page Will, prepared by a solicitor in England, being challenged by a person claiming to be his illigitimate child. In this case though, the solicitor is blameless, as it is almost certain that Sir Jimmy did not divulge to the will-writer that he may have a child from a short intimate encounter in 1970!

But it is worth keeping in mind that according to English law a dependent can challenge based on the Provision For Family And Dependants Act where according to the article

The Act gives a child or other dependant the right to make a claim against their parent’s estate, for which they are required to successfully argue that ‘reasonable financial provision’ was not made for them.

They would also have to prove that whatever amount they sought was a ‘reasonable maintenance’, based on how well they already were able to support themselves’.

It is complicated, because as the solicitor in the article rightly explains

“a judge would pay close attention to what Mrs Ray needed to maintain herself financially. This is where adult children with jobs or earning capacity often fall down, as the vast majority tend to be financially independent and used to providing for their own standard of living, It would be open to the court to conclude that nothing at all was in fact reasonable financial provision, and it may well do that, if it considers that she is well provided for from her own resources.”

I always find the comments underneath the article to be the most interesting and it appears that sympathies lie with the daughter who grew up without a father. The three most approved comments are;

“I assume he didn’t pay for her upbringing so why shouldn’t she have a claim to it now? No amount of money can replace not being loved and raised by both your parents. She will forever be affected by this rejection.”

“She’s entitled to it. Shame on him for not acknowledging her”

“Saville had the opportunity to address this when he was alive and chose not to. He had a responsibility. God luck to her …”

So the lesson? firstly, make sure that you have written your Will, and then make sure that it is up to date. Using a service like the one at LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk, you can update your Will in a few seconds to make sure that it always reflects the most recent changes to your financial and personal situation. Things can happen in your life, not just to you, but to people mentioned in your Will. It may not be an illegitimate child coming out of the woodwork!! but there are countless reasons why your Will would need to be updated; if the guardian for your children suddenly becomes unable to take on that responsibility, if your Executor no longer seems the most appropriate choice, or if somebody comes into your life who you may wish to acknowledge in your Will.

We will be watching this case with interest to see whether the courts overturn Sir Jimmy’s Will.

The Perils of a Codicil

In a previous post we highlighted the dangers of making quick changes to a Last Will and Testament. We discussed the reasons why you might want to update your Will and the different options available to you for making an update. There were two important pieces of advice in this post; never make a handwritten change to a Will by scratching something out and annotating the text with a scrawled message. Secondly, don’t make a codicil and attach it to your Will, you are far better off re-writing your Will and starting afresh than adding codicils and attaching them to the original document.

Just a reminder; a codicil is a document that makes reference to the original Will, describes the required change and is then signed and witnessed in exactly the same way as a full Last Will and Testament. In practice this rarely serves as a shortcut because the signing requirements are the same. Furthermore, it is probably more difficult to write your own codicil as it is to write your own Will as there are very few resources and tools available to help in the process. There is still a certain amount of “legalese” that needs to appear in a codicil; statements like “in all other aspects I reaffirm my Will dated …..” which is not a sentence that comes naturally to most people. Codicils were popular back in the day because it saved typing out the whole 5 page document again, but of course, in today’s world of computers and printers, there is absolutely no time-saving. Unfortunately, people have a dangerous misconception that a codicil can simply be written and attached to the Will and this attachment has the same legal weight as the Will itself. Don’t believe me? then this news article from earlier this week demonstrates exactly the issue. A woman’s stepfather sadly killed himself and left a suicide note, then according to the article he:

“also left an addendum to his will – increasing Decatur’s inheritance to $100,000. The bulk of Badini’s $1.18 million estate is going to a well-known children’s charity. In his first will – Badini, a member of the Masonic Lodge – willed everything to their Shriners Hospitals for Children. Despite Badini’s handwritten change – it, and two earlier revisions, known legally as codicils – are being challenged….Richard Lyon, the attorney representing Shriners Hospitals told FOX 5: “It is our opinion that the judge should not have accepted the codicils.” Lyon says a probate judge entered the will and the codicils before anyone from Shriners Hospitals was aware of them. Here is the problem. The changes Badini made were not signed by any witnesses. Maryland law requires two witness signatures.”

That the codicils were ever accepted by the Probate courts is a complete mystery; these handwritten amendments to the Will are completely worthless under the law of this jurisdiction.

So our message remains the same. The easiest way to keep a Will updated to reflect a change of circumstance or a change of heart is to use an online service like those at LegalWills.ca , LegalWills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com . You can not only create your Will, but you can return at any time to make an update and then create a new Will to reflect a change on your personal or financial situation. It’s bad enough that 70 percent of adults don’t have a legal Will, but even worse that most people with a Will don’t maintain them because it is very inconvenient and expensive to do so. This unfortunate case shows that while in a desperate state, the last thing on this man’s mind was booking an appointment with a lawyer to prepare a new Will.

Philanthropy and the Last Will and Testament

There are many reasons to write a Will, and we talk about them in most of our posts on this blog, but one area that we’ve not really touched on is the power of your Last Will and Testament to make a difference to the World. Most of us feel that on a day-by-day basis we could probably do a little more by way of charitable contributions. But it turns out that your Will is one of the most powerful tools for helping people and organizations in need. The common term for this is “planned giving”.

We’ve all heard the story of the elderly widow, with no family, who left their wealth to a local cats’ home, but charitable giving need not always be so newsworthy. Most Wills have sections for specific gifts which allows you to name a sum of money (a “pecuniary legacy” as it is known in the UK) for a specific beneficiary. This really gives you an opportunity to be a little more generous that you may have been during your lifetime and for many modest estates, a $10,000 or £5,000 legacy can be comfortably absorbed.

The next step is to choose the appropriate charity. For some people there may be a particular cause that touched their lives, but it is always worthwhile to conduct a little research into the effectiveness of charities and how much of your donation ends up making a difference. The CBC in Canada this morning exposed the finances of the Canadian Cancer Society which showed how currently 22% of donations end up going to research, down from 40% ten years ago.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help with your research. In the US, Charity Navigator provides detailed financial breakdowns and rankings of thousands of charities. The UK equivalent is the government-run Charity Commission. In Canada, Charity Intelligence provide a number of reports and last year Moneysense magazine ranked the top 100 charities by things like Efficiency, Governance and Transparency. It would be terrible to think that your legacy was doing little beyond paying salaries to a Board of Directors rather than going to the cause itself.

Once you have decided on the charity, you have to make sure that you name it in an unambiguous way in your Will. Leaving a bequest to “cancer” does not give your Executor enough information to distribute the legacy (although the terms in the Will usually allow them to make their best effort in this case). You should include the registered number of the charity which could either be found on the website or with a government agency.

So if you really couldn’t think of a reason why you would need a Will (and I would love to hear any of these in the comments!), maybe the opportunity to make a difference to the World is just the spur that you need.