Inheritance is common theme which is used in popular culture. Perhaps, this is due to the ‘human interest’ factor, or because it is a relatable subject for anyone who has either made a will or has had to deal with the administration of a loved one’s estate.
It is also easy to understand why inheritance appears in crime novels, films and TV programmes, as it can provide a financial motive for a crime or explain why a family dispute has arisen.
Songs which mention inheritance tend to be less common, but one recent exception to this is Taylor Swift’s recent hit, Anti-Hero, (from her latest album Midnights) which contains the following verse:
“I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will
The family gathers around and reads it and someone screams out
‘She’s laughing up at us from hell’.”
The song’s video elaborates on this further, by depicting a fictional scene of a family learning about the contents of their mother’s (Taylor Swift’s) will. The ‘children’ discover that they are left “13 cents” from the estate and that the beach house will become a “cat sanctuary”. The ‘family’ speculate that the will may contain a ‘secret encoded message’ which will lead them to a hidden fortune, only to discover from a postscript in the will that this is not the case. This leads to a family argument where they blame each other for the contents of the will.
So, does the fictional will scenario in Taylor’s Swift’s song reflect any real-life inheritance issues which can arise in England & Wales? Below, we consider each line of the above verse and whether it may be based in inheritance ‘fact or fiction.’
Inheritance as a motive for crime
“I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money”
Cases of people being physically harmed so that someone can obtain an inheritance are still relatively rare in the UK, but they do sometimes occur. For example, in October 2022, Jemma Mitchell was found guilty of killing her friend, Mee Kuen Chong, after Ms Chong had apparently changed her mind about paying Ms Mitchell around £200,000 for repairs to Ms Mitchell’s family home.
Ms Mitchell also attempted to forge Ms Chong’s will in order to obtain around 95% of her estimated £700,000 estate. It was reported that the fake will was prepared on Ms Mitchell’s computer and had been created on a date after Ms Chong had died. A genuine will was also apparently found at Ms Chong’s home, which left her estate to her church, family members and charity.
Another infamous case of a forged will being linked to a murder is a will prepared by the late Dr Harold Shipman, who was convicted of murdering 15 of his patients (though it has been reported that Dr Shipman may have actually been responsible for many more deaths).
Dr Shipman’s crimes came to light after he forged the will of one of his elderly victims, Kathleen Grundy, in an attempt to inherit her estate of over £380,000. Ms Grundy’s daughter, Angela Woodruff (a solicitor), became suspicious when she discovered the contents of Ms Grundy’s alleged will. A Police investigation into Dr Shipman followed and it was discovered that Dr Shipman had forged Mrs Grundy’s alleged will on a typewriter, which was later found in his surgery. The investigation into Dr Shipman continued and the extent of his crimes were then revealed.
“She thinks I left them in the will”
Assuming that someone will receive an inheritance can cause family disputes and real problems for an estate.
In England & Wales, a person making a will (known as a testator) can usually leave their estate to whoever they like and they may also change their will over time. If someone makes financial plans based upon an expectation to inherit (rather than based upon what they actually later receive from an estate), this can often prompt will and estate disputes.
It is also important to note that, if certain close relatives or financial dependants are disinherited under a will (or they receive less inheritance than they expected), they may be able to make a claim against the estate for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Provision for Family & Dependants Act 1975. This type of claim does not challenge the validity of the will, but it may result in a different distribution of the estate assets.