No wonder First Minister Alex Salmond and entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer have lent their support for a month-long drive to get more Scots to write a will while simultaneously raising funds for Scots charities working in the developing world.
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The brainchild of Graeme Pagan MBE, a retired solicitor from Oban, Will Relief Scotland draws up a will in return for a donation. Pagan told The Herald that given the recent exposure of so-called “will specialists” by the BBC Panorama programme last month he expected demand for Will Relief Scotland, now in its second year, to be even higher this year than last, as all its wills are drafted by qualified solicitors.
“You can’t afford to take a chance when you make your will. It just has to be right and, through the Will Relief Scotland scheme, you will get your will professionally prepared by a qualified solicitor recognised by The Law Society of Scotland,” he said.
“At the same time you will be able to make a worthwhile donation to the group of five Scottish-based charities specialising in relief and development work in some of the world’s poorest countries.”
Pagan was the original founder of Will Aid, which he set up in 1988 after being inspired by the efforts of Bob Geldof and Live Aid when looking around for a way to commemorate the centenary of the Oban faculty of the Law Society. He left the project when it decided to widen its focus from overseas aid to support for UK charities too.
Will Relief Scotland runs its service during the whole of September. Will Aid is still available in Scotland too. It runs its scheme throughout November, and says its charities support “vulnerable people in the UK and around the world”.
To avoid any confusion, those having a will drawn up will not be expected to leave a bequest to any of Will Relief’s or Will Aid’s charities. It is simply that the donation they make for the will- writing service will be shared among the groups’ charities.
Several law firms from across Scotland have signed up to Will Relief including Bonar Mackenzie and A & WM Urquhart in Edinburgh, and Cowan & Co and Ferguson Whyte in Glasgow. The suggested donation for the Will Relief scheme is £70 for a single will and £95 for mirror wills (wills for spouses which leave everything to the other).
That’s a bargain considering Will Aid puts the typical cost of drawing up a straightforward will at £150 to £200 plus VAT. Suggested donations at Will Aid are £75 and £110 respectively.
According to Will Aid, last year, users contributed £150,000 to its nine charities, including Save the Children, Sightsavers, Age UK and The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund
Those using Will Aid in November will be able to lodge their will with Certainty National Wills Register for free this year, cutting out the £28.75 fee.
However, Pagan believes that neither the financial saving, nor even the opportunity to donate to a worthy cause, should be the sole impetus for writing a will. It is hard to quantify exactly how many people die each year in Scotland intestate (without a will) as neither the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Court Service nor the General Register of Scotland could provide a figure. But anecdotal evidence from solicitors puts it at around one in three.
These people will have no control over who inherits anything they leave behind and could inadvertently end up leaving nothing to some of the people closest to them, while their estate goes to a relative they despised or had never met.
This is because under Scots law of intestacy stepchildren are completely overlooked, while even a co-habiting partner of decades standing would find themselves with only a limited time in which to petition the courts in order to claim their ‘prior rights’.
However, while these rules are designed to ensure that blood or adopted children and spouses or civil partners cannot be disinherited, they do not reflect the often complex family relationships which exist today. Likewise, those in a business partnership who do not have a will risk their business being put up for sale – possibly against the wishes of the other partners in the business – in order to satisfy demands for an inheritance from family members.
It should also be noted that under Scots law children cannot be disinherited as they can still claim a share of legal rights regardless of what is stipulated in a will. However, what they inherit can be restricted to this legal minimum if a will is in place.
Finally, when someone dies without a will and relatives can’t be traced, everything they leave behind becomes the property of the state.
The five Will Relief charities are Blythswood Care, EMMS International, Mary’s Meals, Mission Aviation Fellowship and Signpost International.