The hugely enjoyable recent story of Joan Edwards, the 91 year old retired Nurse’s Will, which included a legacy to “whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit” raises all kinds of interesting issues.

Inevitably the quickest to hit the headlines were those of politics, party donations, spin and counter-spin, money and tabloid newspaper indignation. Surely the most fun fact of all is that the Conservative & LibDem parties divided it among themselves according to how many MP’s each party has. Such an elegant solution.

That is of course until a U-turn resulted in the money being handed over to the Treasury for more nationwide uses. Pity the poor firm of Solicitors who were caught up in that particular burst of public relations cross-fire….

As the dust settles on all of this however, the fact remains that Miss. Edwards did it seems intend to benefit whoever formed the Government of the day. This Government was then to decide how best to use the money as has actually been the case.  The furore has really been over how the Government made that decision, not over the Will.

Donations being made to political parties via a Will is in fact a fairly well known practice and all parties benefit from this regularly. The real issue is that including any discretion in a Will as to how funds should be used needs careful thought.  In the case of Miss. Edwards it appears that she was advised of the ambiguity around ‘Government’ (was it a Government Department or a political party?) but the Will was then prepared as she requested.

However when leaving legacies in a Will, it is vital that there is no doubt over its terms to ensure they do not fail.  The money or assets being given must be clearly identified and equally importantly the identity of the person who is to receive them.  If there is to be any conditions placed on the gift, this must also be clear e.g. that a child will inherit the gift at a particular age. If these factors are properly thought through, the Will can be dealt with by the Executors with little problem. It will avoid any doubt in the Will’s terms causing delays or additional expense, or worst of all a Court case to decide what should happen.

Whatever people may think about the terms of Miss. Edwards’ Will, it has met these tests and has been effective.  Friends of Miss Edwards have been reported as saying that she would not have wanted such a public debate over her affairs. However the benefit of having her Will drawn up by a Solicitor has been that her wishes have in the end been carried out.

You may well wish to benefit your family rather than the Government in your Will. The case of Miss Edwards shows however, the value of instructing a Solicitor to ensure your Will is effective.

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