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Mr Armfield, well known for his good nature and his charity work, had made a Will leaving gifts totalling £236,000 to family members and charities, and the rest of his estate (technically, the “Residue”) to his wife, Anne, to whom he was married for 60 years. Ordinarily, the gift of Residue is the largest gift in the estate. However, the gift is literally of whatever is left after liabilities and the other gifts. As assets shrink, perhaps with care fees, the Residue will shrink too while the other gifts, of fixed amounts, stay the same and take priority.
In this case, the estate was valued at £214,000. The result is that the fixed gifts will shrink proportionately and there is nothing left of the Residue for the widow.
This case highlights the need to consider, when making a Will, what will happen if the estate is not as large at the date of death and whether it is really intended that the fixed gifts should take priority. It is possible, for instance, to provide that fixed gifts should only take place if the Residue is above a certain figure or, more commonly, to make gifts of percentages of the estate, so that if the estate does shrink, all the gifts will shrink in proportion.
Ideally, the solicitor who prepares the Will should be advised of all the assets in an estate so that they can judge how large the fixed gifts are compared with the estate as a whole and advise accordingly. They can also highlight the need for cash in an estate to meet the cash legacies. The solicitor who prepared Mr Armfield’s Will may have assumed that he was wealthy and could easily afford the fixed gifts whereas if they had had the full facts they may have seen that the gifts were disproportionate.
All may not be lost for Anne Armfield. The Will only deals with the assets in the deceased’s sole name; assets in joint names ordinarily simply pass automatically to the other joint owner and cannot be used to make gifts to other people. As a last resort, she could bring a claim for “reasonable provision” against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. As a surviving spouse she would have a good claim for the whole estate.
In the end, we are not simply our possessions but the effect we have had on the lives of the people around us. Jimmy Armfield gave joy to many through his skill and his good works. He will have left a large hole in the lives of his wife and family and good advice would have ensured a simpler way forward for them.