As a confirmed pedant and exponent of estate planning eccentricities, I’ve taken some time away from the more workaday aspects of will writing, to set down some of my favourite quirky facts about wills…
- Death bed gifts – a thing! Usually if someone dies without a will, their estate enters intestacy, however, if a gift is made at the end of someone’s life and crucially in a certain way, this may not be the case. For a ‘death bed gift’ (or donatia mortis causa) to have effect it must: be made in contemplation of impending death; be conditional on death; be parted with, or delivered to the intended recipient in some way. These conditions aren’t trivial and an estate worth more than £1m as deemed not to have been subject to such gift in a recent case. Traveller beware!
- Cryptocurrency – not a thing (probably)! Well at least to the extent that in the US, it cannot be treated as money in a will (being treated instead as property). HMRC guidance on the matter suggests the same. HOWEVER, there are those in the UK who doubt whether it amounts to anything more than digital information, potentially incapable of ownership. Long story short – don’t rely on your will to gift your Bitcoin!
- Choupette – a thing! Heirless designer Karl Lagerfeld, famously left his pet cat Choupette an estate worth tens of millions of dollars. In the UK, however, this would not have worked. Here animals can be provided for, however they cannot be will beneficiaries in and of themselves. Slightly depressingly, my reason for conferring on Choupette the status of ‘a thing’ is that pets might be classed as little more than ‘chattels’ (moveable objects) for legal purposes in the UK. If, however, you feel Mr Floofy Whiskers a companion truly deserving of the family Rolls, consider a discretionary trust, or a move to Singapore, where ‘hyper-niche’ tax lawyers are rumoured to be exploring a role for ‘pet beneficiaries’ in tax planning.
- Brewster’s Millions – not a thing! The title refers to a 1985 film, starring Richard Prior, in which Monty Brewster would inherit an estate of $300m, if he were able to spend $30m (approximately $70m in today’s money) in 30 days, without having a single thing to show for it at the end (and telling no one). The point was to teach Monty the burden and futility of wealth. So could such conditions be demanded using a will in real life? Well, a case in New Southwales a few years ago tested the use of conditions, the ruling here was that conditions remained valid to the extent that they were: i) certaine. could be understood to have been met; ii) not impossible, certainly a grey area in the case of Mr Brewster and iii) not contrary to public policy, hmm ‘vote for none of the above!’ (apologies, I’m a fan of the movie). In reality if you really are considering the use of conditions, once again consider using a discretionary trust.
- Move on! In 1856, German poet Henry Heine, left his estate to his wife on condition that she remarry. His withering reason: so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”. Ouch! Caution should be exercised in seeking to exact revenge in this way, however. Under today’s law, Henry’s wife could simply disclaim the gift. Being childless the entire estate would pass to her by way of intestacy.
Well I hope you won’t hold my odyssey into oddity against me. I shall return to matters less esoteric in my next post. Good bye for now!
Dr Simon Pearce Co-Founder Confidence Wills www.confidencewills.co.uk.