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What’s in a letter? Downton drama poses testamentary intent debate


Article date:  01/10/2013

Leading law firm Higgs & Sons today stressed the importance of avoiding DIY wills - to prevent the latest Downton Abbey drama becoming a real-life crisis.

Experts at Higgs & Sons say it is all too easy for families to be torn apart by long-running disputes because of poorly-written or non-existent wills.

The warning comes as Downton viewers have been gripped by the Crawley family's infighting after Lady Mary Crawley's husband Matthew died without having made a will.

In the latest episode of the hit ITV series, a letter from Matthew came to light telling his wife he realised he had not drawn up a will but wanted her to inherit everything if he died suddenly.

The letter has now split the household down the middle, with Lord Robert attempting to seize full control of the Downton estate amid legal uncertainty over the legitimacy of the letter.

Solicitors at Higgs & Sons say it is all too easy for the fictional row to become a real-life nightmare for families who have not put their legal affairs in order or rely on home-made wills.

Ian Bond, a Partner in Higgs' private client team, said it was vital for everyone to seek professional advice and have a legally-sound will drawn up.

And he said it was particularly important for new or expectant parents - such as Lady Mary and Matthew - to get proper advice to ensure their wishes for the future care of their children were carried out.

"Home-made wills or letters, such as the one from Matthew to Lady Mary, can be a real problem when somebody dies unexpectedly," said Ian.

"Although they can give the impression of expressing the bereaved person's wishes, if they do not follow the required legal formalities they can cause more problems than they solve.

"That is why it is absolutely vital to seek legal advice when making a will. It offers complete peace of mind and ensures that the author's wishes are both clear and legally enforceable.

"For new or expectant parents it becomes all the more important because of the issues surrounding the care of their children if they die suddenly. It affords them the opportunity to consider who they would want to appoint as guardian and how to handle issues such as setting up trusts for the children.

"Of course, when you have made a will it is just as important to let your family know about it and make sure it is kept somewhere safe. A solicitor can do that for you and save a considerable amount of time and worry in the process."

Higgs & Sons works from two offices in the Black Country - Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill and Kingswinford. The firm employs more than 200 people, which includes over 100 specialist lawyers.

For specialist advice on making or amending your will call Ian on 0845 111 5050 or email

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