Disputed wills and estates are far from rare and it is often the least valuable assets in an estate that give rise to the bitterest arguments. In particular, a deceased person’s personal effects, such as their jewellery, pictures or even clothing, often carry many emotional connotations and it is these articles which are frequently the catalyst for a family dispute.
This was illustrated recently by a case brought in the High Court by the sister of the late footballer, George Best. Barbara McNarry was appointed the sole executor of her brother’s will. Mr Best died in 2005, at the age of 59, after a long and well-publicised battle with alcoholism.
Mr Best’s former wife, Alex, had in her possession at the time of his death a number of personal effects, including awards and other memorabilia. She intended to sell these items at auction, apparently arguing that they belonged to her as a result of the couple’s divorce settlement. Mrs McNarry claims that the items belong to the footballer’s estate and has obtained a High Court injunction preventing their sale pending a full hearing as to ownership of the disputed items.
In this case, the personal effects are potentially of significant monetary value. The newspaper reports of the case do, however, make reference to the emotional attachment felt to photographs of deceased family members and it is these sorts of items that often cause the most vehement disputes.
So, what arrangements can you make so as to ensure that your personal effects go to those you wish to have them after your death? The most important thing is to make a will so that your precise wishes with regard to these items are as clear as possible. It is not necessary to refer to all personal effects individually in a will. A very common way of dealing with them is to leave all personal effects to your executors to distribute in accordance with a separate list. This list can then be updated as circumstances change and, as it is not admitted to probate, it remains a private document.
Says Cathy Owen, “Some people specify a particular method for making sure that the right object goes to the right person. For example, it has been known for items to be marked in some way, perhaps using a system of coloured stickers. Testators have in the past formulated systems whereby children take turns in choosing items from the estate with the order in which the choice is made being determined by birth order or by drawing lots.
“Whatever method is chosen, clarity is vital if future disputes are to be avoided, and a professionally prepared will is the best way of ensuring this. We can assist you to ensure that the disposition of your personal effects does not lead to a family dispute.”