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Last will and testament?

This is South Wales has reported on a case of a couple of men who forged a will in order to claim an estate.

The issue highlights the fact that the system of wills and probate in this country dates back over 100 years and can almost seem designed for fraud and mistakes.

The problem is that it falls to the executors or relatives to notify the state of the person's death, to find whatever will may have been executed and then apply for probate or letters of administration. However there is no state register of wills where relatives can find the most recent will. It is not uncommon for people to make wills and then change their mind and execute a new one within a few months - for example where there is a sudden falling out between relatives and a subsequent cooling down of emotions.

There is always the possibility that a will that has been made is not found, a will that has been found is not the last will made and, as some of our clients have expressed concerns about, a will which has been found being ignored by disinherited relatives.

There are not many practical solutions to the last problem, as 'standing searches' at the probate registry typically last only 6 months in the first instance. One way might be to lodge your will with the institution which holds your main assets, so that if an approach to obtain that asset is made they will be aware of the will. However if this is a bank you should be aware of the high fees and pressure-sales tactics that some banks employ. You can guard against that by appointing a professional executor, though you should get a written breakdown of their charging structure beforehand.

You can increase the chances of a will being found by depositing it with a solicitor, making sure your executors have copies and by registering it with a commercial wills register.

As an executor, there are also investigations you can make - with the deceased's bank, local solicitors, commercial registers etc - and ways to protect yourself from personal liability if a later will is found. Our page on what to do when someone dies lists the steps that need to be taken if a relative or spouse passes away.

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