31st March 2021
Family disputes over inheritance have been on the rise for a number of years now. Last year The Times reported a 47% increase in the number of Inheritance Act claims from 2018. However, there are various other disputes that can surround someone’s will or estate that are not included in that figure.
Inheritance disputes may have risen due to soaring house prices, second marriages and blended families. Family relationships are a lot more complicated than they were a few decades ago and relatives could potentially have a lot more to miss out on.
Disputes over family estates and wealth were once thought to be reserved for the rich and famous, however, research recently carried out by Direct Line found that a quarter of people would be prepared to challenge a will if they felt they had been unfairly treated.
People considering a claim should be under no illusion that it is an easy feat, even though the numbers of cases reaching the Royal Courts of Justice is increasing. Proving that a will is invalid or that your share of a relative’s estate is unfair can be a challenge.
In order to make a claim, a spouse, child or other dependent has to show that they have not been left adequate financial provision under the will. The courts will push back frivolous claims or where parties have not made reasonable efforts to settle a claim through alternative negotiation. This is demonstrated by the different outcomes of some recent cases in this article.
There are some circumstances where a will could be considered as invalid, and therefore possible to make a claim against. This could include:
In Rochford V Rochford, a daughter with long-term health issues was left a small legacy in her father’s will, which had been made at a time when the father and daughter had briefly fallen out. Her father did not update the will once they had later reconciled, and so she claimed provision under the will after his death. This was contested by her aunt, who stood to inherit the majority of the estate. Despite the sums involved being relatively modest, and the daughter suggesting they used mediation, the aunt refused, and this led to a costly court case. As well as recognising the daughter’s claim, the judge criticised the aunt’s actions and awarded the daughter additional sums, covering her costs and interest.
In Shapton V Seviour, a healthy, home-owning daughter, with a good level of household income, demanded her share of her father’s modest estate. The father had left everything to his second wife, who was terminally ill, unable to work and reliant on state benefits. The judge rejected the daughter’s claim, saying she evidently was not in need of financial support and that her father had been very clear in his planning that everything should pass to Mrs Seviour to support her needs. The daughter was ordered to pay the costs of the case.
One of the reasons why family disputes may arise is a lack of communication among families. Failure to communicate their wishes or explain their plans for their inheritance whilst they are alive can fuel grievances after they die. Death is never a pleasant topic to bring up around the dinner table. But it is an important discussion to have to ensure everyone understands their position and disputes can be minimised at a sad and difficult time.
People often believe that they do not need advice or are not prepared to pay for professional wills written by a regulated solicitor. This can cause situations where their badly drafted wills become invalid, are unfit for purpose or they fail to make one at all and intestacy rules are applied to their estate resulting in key people missing out or others benefitting against their wishes.
There are a lot of misconceptions around inheritance and the chain of succession may not occur as children or spouses believe it should. This can leave family members feeling left out or disappointed with their share of the family fortune, especially if they were once promised something in a will from a loved one.
If you think that you have a claim to make on an estate that you were left out of or are considering making a claim after receiving an unfair share of a family member’s estate, then please get in touch with our Dispute Resolution department who can identify your rights and talk you through the process.
If you are concerned about your wills or current planning for your bloodline, then please speak to our Private Client Department who can review your wills or start the process of putting expertly drafted wills in place to give you peace of mind.
Call our office on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to our online chat assistant, who is available on our website at any time of day or night.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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