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[List all the awful puns in this article and get a free will for you and your partner.]

Will Writing ServiceThe Daily Mail (don’t judge me) recent published a pretty disturbing story about an elderly mother whose Will caused a proper barney for her family.

It appears that the Will, written 20 years before the lady’s death, specified £30,000 to be split between her children and grandchildren, with the residue (i.e. everything else in the estate) to be shared between the RSPCA and a local dog charity.

At the time the Will was written, the lady’s house was valued at around £40,000 – hence the size of the cash legacies.

Fast forward twenty years and the lady dies with her house now valued at over £200,000.

So, in terms of her Will, the two charities were set to receive a wad of cash that greatly eclipsed the amounts destined for her nearest and dearest.

This being the UK, the family lawyered-up and fought the big bad charities. For some reason I can’t quite shake the image of the RSPCA’s solicitor looking like this dapper chappy above… a legal beagle, if you will.

Unsurprisingly, the number of wills being challenged by relatives who feel that charities have been left too much money has trebled over the past few years.

Holy cow! The sums involved are udderly huge – In 2011 the seven main animal charities received nearly £170 million in legacies. That also means that these charities can throw quite a bit of legal weight behind their legal proceedings.

But the horrifically expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining court experience can be entirely done away with if you take the time to think carefully about your Will.

To avoid a residue problem like that described above, you could specify a definite amount of money to go to your charity.

So, if you’re an unshellfish individual and you’re thinking of gifting part of your estate to, say, marine conservation charity, don’t be koi – note an exact amount of money you want to bequeath, and let minnow when you’ve got this in order. You can even attach conditions to your legacy – for example, that the money should only be used for educational porpoises.

Similarly, if you’re a fan of peacocks and want to bequeath something to the RSPB, make sure you and your lawyer pay attention to de-tail. Your Will should be precise and leave nothing open to interpretation. Believe it or not, getting your estate sorted can be a pheasant experience – sometimes even a lark.

Once you’ve made your Will, be sure to review it every five or so years to ensure it’s up-to-date. Some people make add hawk amendments to their Will every so often (these are called ‘codicils’ and sit alongside your principal Will) to keep it updated.

Another way to mitigate the concerns of any disgruntled relatives is to create a Letter of Wishes to accompany your principal Will. This is simply an informal letter, addressed to your executor(s), stating your reasons for the decisions you have made in your Will. This can touch upon why certain people have been included or excluded. The letter isn’t legally binding, but is persuasive to those reading your Will. It may even serve to pre-empt any challenged to your Will.  

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