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You may have read recently about the case of Joy Williams. She is the lady who brought proceedings against Maureen Martin when Maureen's husband died having lived with Joy for eighteen years.
Mr Martin had not changed his will to reflect his living arrangements and yet he had lived with Joy Williams all of those years. He and Maureen had not divorced. Mr Martin had clearly had some legal advice as he and Joy owned their home as tenants in common. This means that they could have left their respective shares in their home to anyone of their choosing by way of a will.
The most important thing about this case is that It has cost a fortune, the home in dispute was worth £320,000 and Mrs Martin has been ordered to pay Joy Williams £100,000 in legal costs!
Joy said, after the judge ordered that she was entitled to retain her home "I believe that this is what Norman would have wanted for me". How do we know that? If he was so determined to break away from his wife why did he not issue divorce proceedings? After all, even if the couple had not wanted to blame one another they could have had a fault free divorce after two years, if they both agreed to this, or after five years if one of them didn't agree.
At the same time as dealing with the divorce it would have been good practice for the couple to attend to a financial settlement. The resulting court order would have finalised matters between them; it would have meant that Mrs Martin would not have been entitled to Mr Martin's estate upon his death. It would have saved the two ladies, and no doubt their families, a huge amount of stress.
Was it Mr Martin's intention to put them both through this and for over £100,000 to be lost in legal fees? I doubt that very much. In any event a will, whether Mr Martin was divorced from Mrs Martin or not, would have reduced a huge amount of uncertainty in this case. Mr Martin's share of the house could have been left to either Joy, Maureen or indeed Mr and Mrs Martin's daughter.
Had Mr Martin attended Emmersons Solicitors Private Client Department we would have considered carefully all of his financial circumstances. We would have encouraged him to make a will, and either sort out his financial affairs with Mrs Martin or leave her something in his will or indeed specifically exclude her. In respect of Joy Williams, we would have made sure that he either left her his share of the house or set out in a legal document explaining why he had not done so.
You may think that this is a rare case. All that is are about it is that it was reported in the press. I dealt with a divorce some years ago. At the time I advised my client, let's call him Peter, make a will and to attend to the ownership of the matrimonial home with his wife. What he actually wanted, and he told me this many times over the next ten years, was for his child to inherit his half of his home. It would have taken one land registry document and one will to achieve this.
Peter was always too busy to attend to his affairs. He ended up buying a new home in his own name and later his new partner moved in with him. Still no will! His partner didn't work and so would be able to prove that she was financially dependent upon Peter for the purposes of inheritance. Thus when he died suddenly, in his mid-forties, his wife would have been entitled to the first house in its entirety and his partner would have claimed quite a share of his second house. The one person not to be looked after in the way that Peter really wanted was his young son. What a sad state of affairs. Remember, there is no such legal concept in this country as common law wife. Do not assume you or your partner will be looked after by the courts. You may have to fight for everything if your partner dies without leaving a will in your favour.
You can guess the moral of this story: make a will and finalise your financial affairs by way of a court order if you and your spouse have separated or divorced.
Otherwise I'd be more than happy to charge your family £100,000 in legal fees to help them obtain their share of your estate!
Author: Jacqueline Emmerson