Clients with no will.

Why on earth not???

I have come to describe the solicitor’s job as the "What If?" job. Doesn’t matter if you’re big firm, sole practitioner, in-house, master of the legal universe. The fundamental question that underpins all legal practice is What If.

What if I get divorced from this person I am buying property with? What if I am sequestrated and this transfer to my kids is looked at by my trustee? What if we don’t find oil and this joint venture becomes a liability instead of an asset? What if I get found guilty? But for today, the question is: what if I die?

Actually that’s not really the question. You WILL die, that’s the finishing tape for all of us, but what if I die and my family needs to succeed to my estate and I have not made a will? I used to like Blankety Blank – bubblegum television for a relaxing evening after a stressful day, and I always remember that Terry Wogan when waiting for some lesser light to understand and react to some facile setup question, would help by intoning “The clue is in the question”. And so with wills.

What if I die without a will? Well, ce n’est pas la science de, er, rocket. And another bit of homespun wisdom pops in here – prevention is better than cure. I.e. make a will. Not dear, not a big production, but saves anxiety, often argument, and certainly cost. Now none of that is a surprise to you practitioners. But it may be news or at least a wakeup call to the client.

It may look perhaps that I have approached this the wrong way round – why did you do all this back to basics stuff, Austin? We’re lawyers, we get it.

But there, my dear colleague, is the point. You may get the point, but do you do anything about it? Again, not preaching nor being in any way superior (mainly cos I ain’t), my experience has been that solicitors often do not apply this equation in real life.

How many times do you complete a conveyancing transaction and send the buying/selling/both client a suggestion that if they don’t have a will they ought to, for about four obvious reasons? How often, after completing a commercial lease for a business client, have you asked whether he/she/it/they have done anything about succession planning: what if (that beloved brace of words) the managing director or main owner or partner were to peg out? Having completed a separation agreement for a spouse, how many times have you actually suggested to them that a will is an essential postscript, either because the separated spouse will still have rights, or as part of an active management of the divided estate?

And lots, lots more. Client interests should always come first, and you can put your hand on your heart and say that you have given good advice by suggesting and explaining a will. From a commercial perspective, it is good for you too. See the previous blog on warm calls, relationship, trust and all the rest – this is hand in glove time again.

Whenever you do work for a client, it is a sin crying out to Andy Murray for vengeance if you do not think and talk holistically. Don’t be a passive accepter of instructions: be reactive but proactive too. You are their solicitor – that means agent, adviser, counsellor, not just shopkeeper. It’s an active relationship, not a passive one. And that’s good for the client and for you.