Estate Planning and Burns

Author: Mitchells Roberton
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Burns night has just passed and I am sure lots of haggis, neeps and tatties have been devoured and many a poem recited and songs enjoyed. Robert Burns was born on the 25th January 1759 and died on 21 July 1796. He is familiarly known as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard and the Ploughman Poet among other names. He is regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide.

After his death Burns became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism with a strong influence on Scottish Literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by STV.

Worldwide there are more statues dedicated to Robert Burns than any other non-religious figure after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus. Astronaut Nick Patrick carried a miniature book of Burns poetry with him on a two week long space mission. Apparently John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men” from a line of a Burns poem “To a Mouse”.  Auld Lang Syne, one of Burns most famous works, has appeared in over 170 Hollywood films including The Apartment, It’s A Wonderful Life and When Harry Met Sally.

Burns, it is believed, fathered at least 12 children by four different women .His wife Jean Armour gave birth to nine of his children but only three survived infancy.  Burns himself died aged only 37 in the summer of 1796. His widow Jean Armour had taken steps to secure his personal property by liquidating two promissory notes. The family also went to the Court of Session in 1798 with a plan to support Burns surviving children by publishing a four volume edition of his complete works and a biography written by Dr James Currie. Subscriptions were raised to meet the initial cost of publication but records show that fundraising for Burns’ family was embarrassingly slow.

The Royal Mail has issued postage stamps commemorating Burns three times. Burns was pictured on the Clydesdale Bank £5 note from 1971 to 2009. In 2009 the Royal Mint issued a commemorative two pound coin featuring a quote from Auld Land Syne. Burns suppers are celebrated around the world.

I love the works of Burns and one of my favourite poems is “To a Mouse” where these famous lines are found:

The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Apart from his wonderful poetry and lyrics what other lessons can we learn from the life of Burns. He died without a Will which meant his widow had to apply to the court in Dumfries to be appointed his executor dative. Of course, the law has moved on in the last 260 years, but if you die without a Will then your family will still have to petition to court to have an executor appointed. If you leave a Will this process is not required.

Burns was only 37 when he died and maybe he thought he was too young to make a Will but you should give this careful consideration especially if you have young children and want to control who will look after them if anything happens to you.

Also some people, including Burns perhaps, think they don’t have any assets so there is no point in making a Will but even if you do not have substantial savings you may have a pension or death in service benefits payable by your employer. The only way to ensure what happens to them is to leave a Will.

Burns also had a number of children and his surviving children would have had a claim on his estate whether he died with or without a Will.

If you think any of these issues apply to you please get in touch so I can help you make sure your estate planning does not ”gang aft a-gley.” Please contact Heather Warnock on 0141 552 3422 or by email

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