Sussex law firm warns ‘secure your will’ after costly case

In light of a recent case that cost a family an extra £15,000, Sussex law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter is urging people to securely store their wills and keep them regularly updated to avoid significant complications and unnecessary expenditure for loved ones left behind.

After an East Sussex woman’s passing in 2019, her original will could not be found and was presumed lost or destroyed. On this occasion, it was not possible to use a copy will in connection with the grant of probate – forcing Mayo Wynne Baxter to take legal steps to handle the 94-year-old’s estate.


Years later, one of the estate’s executors died and his relatives stumbled upon the woman’s original will among his belongings. The loss and subsequent unexpected discovery required additional legal proceedings, resulting in escalated costs and unnecessary complications, all of which could have been avoided had the original will been accessible from the outset.


Fiona Dodd, private client partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter, said: “We have witnessed firsthand the profound impact the absence of a securely stored and regularly updated will can have on estate administration. It not only leads to increased costs and legal complexities, but also inflicts emotional strain and turmoil on all parties involved.


“We strongly urge individuals to take proactive steps to safeguard their wills to avoid similar complications in the future, ensuring peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones. Our advice is to always keep an original copy of a will with your will writer or lawyer and ensure your executors are told where this is held.”


With no original will present at the time of the woman’s death, Mayo Wynne Baxter had to instruct a genealogy agent to research her family tree, who discovered there were more than 50 potential beneficiaries who lived across world from the USA to Australia.


When the original will was located, a new application was needed to authenticate the document and enable the rightful executors to administer the estate.


Fiona said: “Without the original document, the wishes within the will could only be legally followed with the consent of all surviving heirs. As no one had knowledge of our client’s full family tree, we needed a genealogy specialist to trace all descendants. This was a large undertaking, incurring around £15,000 in additional avoidable costs.


“Had the original will not been found, we would have needed to have written to all the descendants for authority to distribute the estate in accordance with the copy document. This would have added at least another £10,000 to the bill – totalling around 10% of the estate’s value.


“The experience has undoubtedly been deeply challenging for the loved ones involved, causing significant stress, frustration and emotional upheaval. Fortunately, this is a very unusual set of circumstances. However, it underscores the importance of proactive estate planning and securely storing a will to alleviate such burdens during difficult times.”


For more information, please visit: www.mayowynnebaxter.co.uk


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