What made Gerry Robinson so uncomfortable?

An interesting situation came to light during the first episode of the BBCs enlightening new series ‘You Can’t Take It With You’, aired on BBC1 on 14th January. The show examines the feelings and emotions that go into making a Will, featuring two couples who had both remarried in later life. Business guru Gerry Robinson, with the help of an expert in Wills, helps the couples through the minefields and explores the various options available to them. In short, the solution for each couple, rather to leave everything to each other, was to make use of a trust in each Will; the effect of this was to ensure that whoever survived would be able to continue living in the marital home until they died, but after that the half of the house which had previously belonged to their deceased spouse would then be distributed according to that spouse’s wishes.

This is a very common device used in estate planning. Many people on second marriages feel very awkward as they really want the assets to end up with their children in the end, and using a trust is the best way to achieve this with any certainty.

However, what interested me more was the second couple featured. The husband had stepchildren from a previous marriage and he wanted to ensure that most of his estate ended up with those step-children in the end, while providing for his current wife. But the current wife had a different motivation altogether – she thought that the entire joint estate should be used for charitable purposes. She had no children. He was about to go and serve in Iraq so making a Will had become urgent, and he seemed like a terribly nice guy. His stepdaughters, while not expecting everything from him, did not seem entirely happy at the prospect of all of his money ending up going to charity. Gerry Robinson was visibly uncomfortable with what was being proposed and we can only guess what a positive influence he may have had on the final Will.

The husband’s character ended up being his downfall, and at one point in the programme it appeared that he was going to leave all the money to his new wife for her to do with as she wished. She even mentioned that she was intending to try and ‘prick his conscience’ to make him change his mind about his Will. This could have left a real mess because it would have given the stepdaughters the perfect reason to contest the Will – a Will can be challenged if it is believed that it was written under undue influence from somebody else or if coercion of any kind was used.

In the end, because of the expert level of advice given, the couple were dissuaded from their points of view, and a solution was devised where the husband left a lump sum to his step-daughters and his wife, and then left the residue on a  trust for the wife until she died, after which it would pass to the stepdaughters. This, to me, showed the value of good advice. In estate planning, good advice is about having somebody to take the time to talk to you about the whole family set-up and the emotions that you are going through. If this couple had been visited by a Will writer offering to write their Wills for £50, or gone to a High Street Solicitor with a similar price, they could not possibly have received the time and attention that was required to come up with a solution. There could have been a real mess left behind if the wife had managed to influence her husband’s Will and he had given in for the sake of a quiet life. This was never really mentioned on the programme, but it was the thing that indirectly led to all the squirming and awkward meetings.

When making a Will, always make sure you use an experienced professional who will allow you the time to make the right decisions; the cost will reflect this, as with anything I life, but ‘going cheap’ on these things really is a false economy and could end up costing thousands in legal fees and a whole lot of upset after you have gone.

Steve Wilkes is the Managing Director of Silver Lining Estate Planning Ltd based in Ipswich in Suffolk, experts in Wills and Trusts with consultants across much of the UK. For more information on this or any other Will related subject call him on 0800 0934299.


  • Colin Low

    25th January 2011

    That’s an excellent article Steve. I have yet to watch the programme (I have it on Sky+) but your comments about advice are highly appropriate in this very emotive area.

    It is ironic that so often people do not seek advice in a desire to ‘keep matters private’ and yet so often the result is that the outcome unintentionally hurts or offends the very people they most wanted to benefit.

    I will watch the programme with interest.

  • Craig Clark

    25th January 2011

    This is an excellent article that everyone should take the time to read. My parents actually discussed the content of their will with me to make sure I knew exactly what would happen. I will now watch the TV programme on iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00xxp5x/Cant_Take_It_with_You_Favouritism/

    All the best
    Craig Clark

  • Divaa

    24th November 2014

    This is something I will have to look into.We did our wills after both our soencd marriages when step children were in the mix.Our lawyer knew this so we assumed that he was wording the will properly so no one would be left out.Now I need to go back and check this out to be sure.Thanks for bringing this to my attention

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