Was Downton's Matthew Crawley the worst solicitor ever?

9 October 2013

When Matthew Crawley so tragically perished on the way back to Downton Abbey from meeting his first born child, he did so without leaving a will. Surely a massive oversight from a legal professional?

In lieu of writing a will, the solicitor had only managed to write a letter to his sometimes frosty, sometimes affectionate wife Mary (perhaps that's why he was reluctant to make it official).

However, the letter, which had apparently been witnessed but not signed, was found to be legally binding by Lord Crawley's advisers.

While viewers breathed a sigh of relief, modern day lawyers found themselves shouting at their TV screens.

"During my Sunday evening Downton fix I found myself shouting, 'But it doesn't comply with Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837' in a rather too enthusiastic manner," says Alyson Coulson, partner at law firm Hart Brown.

"For a will to be valid, it must comply with Section 9 of the Wills Act which says that a will must be in writing, signed by the testator who should intend by his signature to give effect to the document, and witnessed and signed by two witnesses," she explains.

"Of course, if Matthew Crawley – a solicitor himself no less – had done the right thing in the first place and made a proper will, all of this could have been avoided. Anyway, this is only a story isn't it? Real life couldn't be nearly as complicated because people are sensible and make proper wills to provide properly for their loved ones. Don't they?"

Unfortunately they all too often don't – Moneywise revealed on 7 October that more than half of UK adults don't have a will.

So here are a few tips Coulson suggests we all bear in mind:

1. If you die without making a will your assets will be distributed under rules laid down by the government. It very much depends on how much you own, the make up of your family and how your assets are held. The only way to make sure that the people you want to inherit do inherit is by making a will.

2. A will not only ensures your wishes are followed but also provides clarity to those left behind, and reduces the possibility of family arguments. There is a real misunderstanding, particularly among married couples or those in a civil partnership, that everything will pass to a partner or spouse. That is not necessarily correct and can leave all sorts of difficulty for the survivor.

3. Making a will can be very emotive. It can be thought-provoking but it doesn't have to be difficult. As long as the document complies with the formal requirements of making a valid will it could be written on a scrap of paper. However, it is very easy to make mistakes or to inadvertently write something that might cause real trouble.

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