Should I Include a Disaster Provision in My Will?

17 April 2019

It's important to consider including a disaster provision when making a Will, to set out what should happen to your Estate if none of your beneficiaries survive you. Without this, your Estate could be passed to relatives that you had purposefully excluded from your Will or, if no relatives survive you, everything could go to the Crown.

If you make a Will with Co-op Legal Services, our specialist Will Writers will discuss the inclusion of a disaster provision with you, to ensure that your Will covers different eventualities.

What is a Disaster Provision?

A disaster provision, also known as a 'common tragedy clause,' is a clause that can be written into your Will to provide for a 'disaster scenario' whereby none of your other named beneficiaries survive you. As its name suggests, the purpose of this clause is to ensure that, in the event of a disaster scenario whereby all your other beneficiaries have already died, your wishes are clear about the distribution of your Estate.

While it's uncommon for disaster provisions to be called upon, it's still important to have one written into your Will just in case. Examples of situations where disaster provisions in Wills have been utilised include natural disasters such as tsunamis that claim the lives of whole families, as well as tragedies such as plane crashes.

In one tragic high-profile case, multi-millionaire Richard Cousins was killed in a sea plane accident, along with his two sons, his fiancée and her daughter.

Mr Cousins had recently made a Will, in which he had included a disaster provision which was to come into effect in the event that he and his family died at the same time. Under the terms of this clause, £41m of his Estate was gifted to the charity Oxfam, with £1m each also being left to his two brothers.

What Happens Without a Disaster Provision?

If all of the named beneficiaries in a Will predecease the testator (the person making the will), then upon the testator's death, the Estate would be distributed as though they had died without a valid Will in place (called dying intestate).

Under these circumstances, inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy would come into play. These rules place relatives in order of priority, as follows:

  1. Spouse or civil partner
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren/great grandchildren
  4. Parents
  5. Siblings
  6. Grandparents
  7. Aunts and uncles
  8. Half aunts and half uncles

If there were no surviving relatives, then everything would pass to the Crown.

Leaving a Gift to Charity in Your Will

It is not unusual for people to name charities as beneficiaries in the disaster provision in a Will. There are a number of reasons why individuals may want to do this.

Firstly, it is likely that the charity will still be in existence at the time of their death. This creates an element of certainty that if all the previously named beneficiaries die first then they'll still know how their Estate is being distributed.

Also, it may be simply be that they want to benefit the charity if none of their other beneficiaries are alive at the time. This may be because the charity has helped them or their loved ones during their lifetime or perhaps because the charity supports a particular cause that they feel strongly about.

Many charities rely heavily on legacies left in Wills, meaning that you can really make a difference by leaving a gift to charity when you die. There is also a potential financial benefit to your Estate, as gifts to registered charities are exempt from Inheritance Tax. A list of registered charities in England and Wales can be found on the Charity Commission website.

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