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Inheritance Disputes: A Rise in Wills Being Challenged

Inheritance Disputes: A Rise in Wills Being Challenged

According to a recent survey, a quarter of British adults are willing to challenge a relative's Will in court if they disagree with the division of the estate.

The number of inheritance disputes reaching the High Court each year has soared to a record high due to the intricacies of modern family life and rising property prices.

Some 116 cases were brought in the High Court under the Inheritance Act last year compared with 15 in 2005 - an eight-fold increase in the annual figure.

In July 2015, the Court of Appeal (Ilott v Mitson) awarded an estranged daughter £143,000 after her mother left £486,000 to various animal charities. The ruling highlighted that even when adult children have been deliberately disinherited, it is still possible for them to challenge the Will of the deceased. This case encouraged many adult children, who had been left out of a Will or not provided for to any great extent, to dispute their deceased parent’s decision, pushing up the figures.

This case was not the only cause of the medium-term increase in inheritance disputes. Traditional family structures have now become less common, with rises in remarriages. Many stepchildren now expect to be included in Wills, and sometimes bring claims against other beneficiaries if they are unhappy with their inheritance.

Is the estate worth making a claim over?

Claims can be expensive and an estate needs to be of sufficient value to be worth contesting. However, the rise of property values in many parts of the UK over the past decade means a growing proportion of estates are now seen as worth fighting over.

Who can make a claim?

Claims under the Inheritance Act can now be made by a range of non-traditional family members. Cohabitees, same-sex partners and people who were treated by the deceased as a child of the family, such as the child of a long-term partner, can now make a claim in the courts for inheritance.  In claims of this nature, the court will make a decision based on the financial needs of the claimant, while taking into account other factors such as the size of the estate and the financial needs of any other beneficiaries.

How to minimise the risk of disputes

Be transparent in your wishes. Disputes can arise because a testator has told different people what he or she thinks they want to hear and the result can be that beneficiaries all truthfully claim they were told different things. This can make the outcome of a court case all the more uncertain.  As well as explaining the Will to the people affected, it’s advisable to put the reasons for their decisions in writing and ask for a copy to be kept with the Will. This is often done in a letter of wishes. Whilst it’s is not legally binding, it can be useful if matters are disputed.

If you require advise on a disputed probate matter please contact Neenu Puri or John Simister in the Litigation Department at Alsters Kelley on 01926 356031 or email neenu.puri@alsterskelley.com or john.simister@alsterskelley.com.


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