Top 5 TV inheritance blunders; what really happens with a will

As wills and probate specialists we often get asked questions by beneficiaries and executors that are based on things they've seen on TV.

It’s hardly surprising when you consider that inheritance has been one of the great dramatic themes - used by everyone from Shakespeare and Dickens to Coronation Street and Eastenders.

It seems that we've all absorbed our understanding of this process, to some extent, based on casual hours spent passively in front of the telly.But the truth is that inheritance law is a much more complicated process than Phil Mitchell’s solicitor would have you believe.

And this is something that can be very frustrating for people, especially if they've unwittingly made assumptions about wills and probate based on television and film.So here are the top 5 myths that need to be debunked.

1: The Reading of the Will

‘When is the reading of the will?’ is often one of the first questions asked. But this process simply doesn't happen.It’s a very dramatic idea and one of the most common scenes played out in inheritance story lines.

Everyone gathers together as the probate solicitor reads out the contents of the will in the deceased’s exact own words, often with insults and all thrown in for effect.

But it simply isn't the case. It’s quite a harmless myth but it’s made worse by the fact that the scene often takes place immediately after the funeral, which leads onto our next point…

2: Probate can be a slow process

This is perhaps the most frustrating thing that bereaved families have to deal with. UK inheritance law can be a complex business and often it takes time to gather all the assets and distribute them amongst the beneficiaries in accordance with the law.

In our experience this frustration isn’t helped by the speed with which these things happen on our screens. But real life doesn’t take place in 60 minute slots. So please be prepared for a lengthier process than you might expect. It can often take up to 12 months.

3: Just who is a Next of Kin?

Next of Kin actually follows very strict definitions under UK law. Should you die ‘intestate’ i.e. without a will, your assets will be distributed to your Next of Kin in the following order:

  • Spouse

  • Children

  • Parents

  • Siblings or their descendants

  • Half-siblings or their descendants

  • Grandparents

  • Uncles and Aunts and their descendants

  • Half uncles and aunts and their descendants

  • The Crown

The important point here is that there is no mention of partners and cohabitees.

If you’ve been living with someone, even for as long as 20 years, and that person dies without having made a will, you could well lose your inheritance.

At the very least you will have to go to court.

4: Executors can be beneficiaries

As long as the will is worded correctly then the executor can be a beneficiary. However they or their spouse cannot also be a witness to that will, as gifts to witnesses are not allowed.

Executors are appointed in a will to administer the estate after death.

Or in legal terms:“To collect, get in, and administer according to law the estate of the deceased”

Where TV lets us all down is by portraying the myth that an executor has power to make any alterations to the precise terms of the will, even if they knew that’s what the deceased always wanted.

It may well be that a certain ring was always promised to a favourite niece, but if it isn’t set out in the terms of the will then it isn’t legally allowed to happen.

5: A Will is not a piece of scribbled notepaper stuffed behind a mattress

This is the classic TV moment where the pious nephew comes running down the stairs in the final scene, waving a letter in his hands and crying joyously that Mille shall have Aunt Gertrude’s ruby ring for her wedding day, just as she had always wanted.Unfortunately, back in the real world, a Will must be signed and witnessed by 2 people.

It is also worth noting that anything not written professionally can be left open to interpretation, and therefore challenged in a court of law.

So it’s just possible that Millie’s wicked step-sister gets the ring after all.For any advice or further information on this subject please contact us directly and we will be happy to help.