Around 40% of marriages in the UK are second (or even third) unions, which creates a lot of step-families – and occasionally, chaos among the kids when their parent and step-parent die. Mirror wills – where two people set down the same wishes for their legacy – are relatively common among couples but can split step-families in two, as Stuart Herd, an accountant from Essex, discovered.
Shortly before his father died, Stuart Herd, 64, had a conversation with him about his will. Mr Herd told his son that he was leaving his estate to his second wife, who he’d married nine years earlier, and that when she died the couple’s assets would be split between Stuart and his wife’s son. The pair had prepared mirror wills, he said.
Mr Herd Senior died in 1997 and afterwards Mr Herd claims he stayed in contact with his stepmother. So he was shocked to discover, when she died in 2012, that she’d changed her will four years earlier – cutting him out and leaving everything to her son and his family.
“To me, my father was very clear in what he wanted,” Mr Herd says. “He worked really hard to build that up – my inheritance was around £150,000 – and losing it feels like you’ve been mugged. She changed it in 2008 and she lived those four years as if nothing had happened.”
Stuart Herd wrote to his stepbrother’s family outlining his position but got nowhere. So he’s launched a petition calling for increased protection for beneficiaries under mirror wills following the first death.
In the petition Mr Herd is calling for two changes to the law around mirror wills: first, a formal warning to anyone who writes a mirror will that their wishes may not be respected should they die first. He also called for the introduction of new legislation, stating that if the beneficiary of a mirror will is disinherited, they should receive a formal written notice for it to have effect. That, he says, is so the person who is being written out of the will has the opportunity to challenge it.
Currently the only recourse is for affected people to apply to the courts to challenge the will; a divisive and potentially financially ruinous course of action.
Just a couple of months ago Paul Daniel’s son branded his stepmother Debbie McGee a ‘false witch’, alleging that she’d cut him out of his father’s inheritance. Paul, who died of an inoperable tumour aged 77, left his whole estate to Debbie. But, Paul Daniels Junior, claimed: ‘She promised that she would look after me and my brothers. But the only person she has looked after is herself.’
What really hurts Stuart Herd, though, is the fact he feels his Dad’s last wishes have been disrespected.
“My late father was a very trusting person and would never have expected my late step mother to betray his wishes by disinheriting his only son and granddaughter in favour of her own family,” he says. “I know for a fact, if my late step mother had died first he would have respected her wishes without question.”
Of course there are advantages to leaving mirror wills. However, as Stuart Herd’s case shows, there are pitfalls too. If you want to chat through the pros and cons of mirror wills, please contact us on 0151 559 0695 or at email@example.com and we can help you write a will that protects your loved ones in the future.
Famously, in Shakespeare’s will, he left his ‘second-best bed’ to his wife Anne and here at Border Wills we can help you set down your legacy too. Take inspiration from the quirkiest instructions ever left in wills – one thing they all prove is that writing a will doesn’t have to be deadly serious.
Chemist Fredric Baur patented the design of the Pringles tube in the 1960s, and requested in his will that some of his ashes be buried in one of his iconic inventions. Baur’s children honoured his request.
Famous contortionist and escapologist Harry Houdini left instructions that his wife Bess should hold a séance every year to see whether he appeared from beyond the grave. He wrote a note detailing the message he’d communicate from the other side. Bess faithfully held a séance every Halloween – the anniversary of his death in 1926 – for ten years.
The longest known will was made by Mrs Frederica Cook who died in 1925 – it was 95,940 words and four volumes in length. The shortest known will was made by a man who simply wrote ‘all for mother’.
People in Portugal got lucky – 70 people in Lisbon, to be precise – when their names were randomly selected from the phone directory by aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara. They were to become beneficiaries to his estate, which consisted of a 12-room apartment in central Lisbon, a house in the north of Portugal, a car and 25,000 euros. ‘Every day you hear of pranks people play,’ one of the shocked and initially suspicious benefactors told a Portuguese newspaper in 2007 when Luis Carlos had died and she’d received a phone call about her inheritance.
Forget leaving it all to the local cats’ home – Jonathan Jackson of Ohio, went one further when he drew up his will in the late 19th Century, bequeathing money for the creation of a ‘cat house’ in which the feline residents were to have their own sleeping quarters, dining hall, conversation room and auditorium where they could listen to the accordion. ‘It is man’s duty as lord of animals to watch over and protect the lesser and feebler,’ he stated.
US comedian and actor, Jack Benny, left a rather lovely legacy to his wife Mary after he died in 1974 – every day, for the rest of her life, the florist would deliver one long-stemmed, red rose to her door.
Wiltshire man, Stephen Cuthbert’s will, written in 2002 requested that, if possible, his body was to be transported to the crematorium in the back of a Cortina estate. In addition to this, ‘a piss-up is to be held at a venue to be decided by my trustees and to be funded entirely by my estate’.
When Albert Orton from Coventry died in 1888, he left his wife the sum of one farthing – because of ‘the treatment I have received at her hands’, according to his will, that included calling him a ‘rotten old pig’ when he broke wind in her presence, even though he was ill at the time.
Whether your bequests are barking or benevolent, we at Border Wills are your local will writing experts. Give us a call on 0151 559 0695 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat about writing a will.