Case Study: What happened to this South West home when no last will was found?

Terraced home in Plymouth in Devon left in a will to beneficiaries and family.

Without a will in place, your savings, family home and treasured belongings may not go to the people you want. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

How an estate with 39 international beneficiaries, no will, and a last wish left on a note was resolved by a Plymouth solicitor.

Raegan Leather, Associate Solicitor and Head of the Wills, Trusts & Probate team at Woollcombe Yonge Solicitors, shares the journey of twists and turns she embarked upon when trying to settle the estate of a local family. Below, she reveals the details of the case and what you can do differently to ensure your property and savings go to the people you care about.

The case: An estate in Plymouth with no will in place

The house belonged to a local man that sadly passed away 12 months ago. He inherited the home from his mother and lived there with his brother, who died earlier that year. The gentleman didn’t have a will, so there were no instructions for what he wanted to happen to his family home.

Professional estate planning and will writing solicitors at Woollcombe Yonge in Plymouth

The team at Woollcombe Yonge can help you understand your options, write your will, appoint an executor of your estate and preserve your inheritance. - Credit: Woollcombe Yonge

He had no immediate family but was very close to his neighbour. He had written a note on a piece of paper, stating he wanted the property to go to this friend. However, as this wasn’t a signed will and there were no witnesses, it wasn’t legally binding and we couldn’t use it.

Instead, we had to instruct genealogists to investigate his family tree. They discovered he had 39 beneficiaries living all over the world, none of whom knew him. Each received varying and small amounts of money from the sale of the home, according to intestacy laws.

The case took over a year to settle, and because there were several complications, it resulted in costly legal fees.

What would have happened to the home if there had been a will in place?

If the gentleman had written a will, he could have passed his home onto his neighbour as he wished. A will ensures that your final wishes are considered and that the law doesn’t dictate who is entitled to what. It offers you peace of mind, security for your loved ones and makes sure your hard-earned savings, family home and treasured heirlooms are passed on to the right people.

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If he’d had a will in place, he could also have reviewed and updated it using our will writing service. Wills can be amended to reflect a change to your circumstances, such as getting married, welcoming a new child, or getting divorced.

How could speaking with a specialist wills solicitor have helped?

By consulting an estate planning solicitor, he would’ve been aware of the legal process, his options and the implications of his decisions.

Writing a will to name a guardian for your children is part of estate planning services.

In your will, you can name guardians to care for your children, just in case the worse happens. It can provide much-needed peace of mind and security for your family. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

He would have understood that he could use his will to appoint an executor of his estate, either a spouse, relative or a professional executor, to manage the division of his assets. We could have administered advice to help draft his will, mitigate his inheritance tax and maximise what his beneficiaries could receive.

Knowing what a will can do would have helped him recognise the importance of writing one. You can use your will to name guardians to look after your children just in case. This provides much-needed security for parents and families. You can also decide what happens to your pets, including setting money aside for their care. Making these decisions now can ease the stress for those you leave behind and prevent them from facing difficulties later on.

What other preparations could have been made to ensure an easy transition of assets?

He could also have set up a trust to provide for loved ones. Trusts enable nominated beneficiaries to receive their inheritance once they reach a certain age, such as 21 or 25. They can be a tax-efficient way to pass on your assets and preserve the inheritance.

Woollcombe Yonge is a local law firm that’s operated in Plymouth for over 250 years.

Woollcombe Yonge is a local law firm that’s operated in Plymouth for over 250 years. - Credit: Woollcombe Yonge

You can use a trust to leave money to a young child that will be released later in their life and provide an income to help them attend university or buy their first home. Discretionary trusts can be useful if you have loved ones suffering from substance abuse issues, learning difficulties, or illness. You can appoint a trustee to manage the money, make withdrawals when needed, and ensure the inheritance is used beneficially. 

Life Interest trusts can help you protect part of your primary residence against care fees. It’s a good way to ensure you have enough money to live on, can access the capital you need and still put aside something for your family. We can advise what trust is right for you, as well as help you create and manage it efficiently.

It’s easy to delay writing your will, but it’s a vital document that everyone should have. It can help ensure the assets, property and savings you’ve worked so hard to earn throughout your life go to the people that matter most. Our friendly and knowledgeable wills team can provide bespoke expert advice tailored to suit your needs, making it simple for you to decide what’s best for your family.

Woollcombe Yonge is a local law firm that’s operated in Plymouth for over 250 years. They are Lexcel accredited and recognised by the Law Society.

Visit to discover more about the importance of wills.

Call 01752 660384 or email Raegan at