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Making a Will – the Importance of a Longstop or Default Beneficiaries

Caroline Casagranda

Partner Caroline Casagranda, in our Probate, Tax & Trusts team, offers a reminder of the importance of appointing longstop or default beneficiaries when writing a will.

This week it was reported that Richard Cousins, the chief executive of Compass Group, who was sadly killed in a plane crash along with his fiancée and three children, has left an estate of £41million to Oxfam.

The will is said to specify that the large sum is left to the charity as both of Mr Cousins’ sons died alongside him. The amount is more than double the total figure Oxfam received from gifts left in wills in 2016-17.

According to a national newspaper, Mr Cousins had updated his will a year previously, to insert a common tragedy clause outlining his wishes if he and his family were to die together.

Such a clause allows an individual to specify to whom their estate will pass in such an event. Considering every eventuality is something that we encourage all of our clients to do when making a will, to ensure that their chosen beneficiaries are provided for and that they have considered who should benefit in the case of those beneficiaries dying in their lifetime or in quick succession.

Even though it is difficult and challenging to consider such tragic events, it is nonetheless important to reflect your wishes in your will. If you do not feel that your existing will is as thorough as needs to  be, this is a very good reason to consider updating it. Please read our blog on other reasons you may want to update you will.

Without specifying in your will who should benefit if your principal beneficiaries die in your lifetime or in quick succession, or indeed if you do not have a will at all, your estate will pass in accordance with the rules of intestacy - working through a list of family members until a suitable living relative is identified to inherit it.

Of course, this person or people may not be someone you wanted to leave your estate, or part of it, to. For example, you may have been estranged or never close to begin with or not feel that they need to benefit due to existing wealth or for other reasons.

It is commonplace to select a charity or charities to inherit your estate as the ultimate or default beneficiaries. This outcome, effective if all other beneficiaries are deceased, is called a longstop.

For more information or legal advice, please contact Caroline Casagranda or a member of our team.

his article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.