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Wills in the Armed Forces

Jul 1, 2020

Are they any different from ‘normal’ Wills?

The year 1837 has plenty to answer for. This was the year of the Act of Parliament that confirms the power of every adult to dispose, on their death, of their property as they see fit. Nearly 200 years later, the Act remains unchanged and is the basis of the many confusions and inconsistencies that prevail today. No more so than with Wills prepared by members of the Armed Forces.

A sad, yet typical, tale

Several years ago, Pte Gavin Williams, a young serviceman from South Wales died leaving a standard services Will. He left his entire estate to his then girlfriend. He’d excluded his family, including his younger sister to whom he was very close and who had a disability.

Before his death, Pte Williams had long split up with his girlfriend but had done nothing to change the terms of his Will.  Even though the relationship was over, Pte Williams ex-girlfriend refused to give up her interest in the estate. In the end, Pte Williams’ mother, took the tough decision to accept a small payment from the estate on behalf of the family, rather than risk the considerable legal costs pursuing a claim in the courts.

Investigations into the circumstances surrounding Pte Williams’ Will revealed that the completion of the document was part of the routine process which all servicemen go through when entering the armed forces. It’s likely he gave little thought to its contents or the manner of organising it.

This is just one instance, but it’s typical of the problems that arise from the out-of-date law that governs Armed Forces Wills.

Privileged Wills

The Wills of military personnel aren’t required to follow several standard requirements of ‘standard’ Wills. They’re called ‘privileged’ Wills. One example is that ‘privileged’ Wills don’t have to be signed by two independent witnesses. They don’t even have to be written. They can be merely verbal.

This goes back to the days of the Napoleonic Wars, or even earlier, when, just before engaging in battle, soldiers would be advised to write down their wishes. These could be signed by a single individual – often the soldier standing next to them! Of course, many soldiers were illiterate, so it was allowed that their Wills could be expressed verbally - again with just the one witness - so long as it was a deliberate expression of wishes and not a mere casual conversation

In the same way that a privileged Will can be made orally, it can also be revoked orally. However, it takes more than just a return to civilian life to revoke the Will.  As with non-privileged Wills, however, marriage will revoke a privileged Will.

Disputes caused by exceptions and nuances

Another instance of inconsistency arises with the matter of age. Normally, a Will can only be drawn up for someone aged 18 or more. Not so for the Armed Forces. A soldier in actual military service can make (and revoke) a privileged Will even though they are under the age of eighteen.

These ‘privileged’ Wills apply to officers of every rank and service, although not civilian engineers employed by the army.

The definition of ‘actual military service’ is broad and doesn’t only mean individuals within the theatre of war.

You can imagine how these exceptions and nuances give rise to any number of disputes.

As ever, if you know of anyone about to embark on a military career, whether in war or peace-time, you need to urge them to …

… ask the expert

We have specialist knowledge in all aspects of Wills – ‘privileged’ or otherwise. It’s vital that you and your loved ones are aware of the complexities and challenges of Will writing, as well as the opportunities.

Give yourself peace of mind. Make sure you get your Will right. Talk to an expert. We’ll answer all your questions and make sure that your wishes are carried out correctly and legally.

Contact Tim Mullock on 01234 713021.
Or email Tim.Mullock@AdeptAssetSolutions.co.uk

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