It is a fact of life that no one knows which day will be their last, but that is not a good reason for putting off making a will. In one case, an 84-year-old man’s failure to make a will consigned his two children to a decade-long battle about the distribution of his estate.

The pensioner, although apparently in good health, died suddenly in 2005 from a stroke without making a will. His estate, which was worth about £550,000, would normally have been split equally between his two children. However, his son claimed that he had promised him that he would inherit everything and that he would sign a will to that effect.

The son argued that, in reliance on his father’s word, he had devoted his life to working in the family business, caring for his parents and improving their home, in which he still lived. His sister, however, pointed out that he had received lifetime gifts from their father worth £470,000 and accused him of being greedy.

The High Court found that the son had not been given an assurance that he would inherit the whole of his father’s estate. He was, however, entitled to 20 per cent of the equity in the family home to reflect the money and effort he had put into constructing a self-contained flat within it. He would have to share the remainder of the estate equally with his sister.

The Court noted that the estate’s liability to inheritance tax, the costs of the prolonged proceedings and the cost of the administration of the estate, meant that the son would have to move out of the family home in any event so that it could be sold. He was given two weeks in which to vacate the property.

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