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“How a £90 Will by Barclays lost half my house”

This is the headline of an article reported today in the finance section of the Telegraph. 

The news story concerns a daughter who claims a botched Will by Barclays bank deprived her of a half share in her late father’sLondonproperty. She is seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation from Barclays, who are contesting the claim, and the case has gone to the High Court. 

The deceased used Barclays’ low cost will-writing service to create a Will dealing with the various assets comprised within his estate. His Will instructed that on his death, half of hisLondonhome was to be given to his daughter, the claimant in this case. 

However, due to the way in which the property was owned by the deceased and his surviving wife, the gift which he purported to make in his Will could not take effect on his death. This was because the property was owned jointly by the deceased and his wife (who is not the claimant’s mother) as joint tenants. When a property is jointly owned beneficially as joint tenants, on the death of one joint owner, the ownership of the property automatically passes wholly to the surviving joint owner. This is known as the rule of survivorship and it applies irrespective of the terms of the deceased’s Will. 

In order for the instructions in the deceased’s Will to have taken effect, the joint tenancy should been ‘severed’ so that the deceased and his wife would have jointly owned the property beneficially as tenants in common. The severance could have been done quite easily at the same time as creating the deceased’s Will, and the Financial Ombudsman describes severing a joint tenancy as “a simple formality”. 

In this case, the Financial Ombudsman Service has already assessed the deceased’s daughter’s claim and found Barclays to be at fault. Barclays were ordered by the Financial Ombudsman Service to pay a “fair and reasonable settlement”. However, Barclays have decided to ignore the recommendation, stating that technically their will-writing division is not regulated and therefore it does not have to comply with the Ombudsman’s findings. The Ombudsman accepted that this is actually technically correct. 

It is a worrying reality that Will-writing companies are not currently regulated.  One thing that is clear from this case is the importance of seeking advice from a specialist when making a Will, particularly given the complexity of many modern family structures and the diversity of each person’s estate and their individual wishes. Discussing your wishes with a Solicitor who specialises in private client work should ensure that you receive the necessary advice at the time of making your Will and that all relevant matters are dealt with to enable your wishes to take effect, such as ensuring that the type of property ownership has been properly considered. 

In addition, it is generally recommended that individuals review their Wills regularly, and particularly if their personal or financial circumstances have changed since making their Wills.

If you want to make a new Will or review an existing Will, speak to Sally Cook, or Karen Yates in our Private Client team on 0800 083 0815 or 0161 764 5266.