Will and inheritance disputes rising, says legal expert

A leading solicitor has warned of increasing numbers of contested Wills and inheritance claims which are creating conflict among families.

The number of Will and inheritance claims is increasing
The number of Will and inheritance claims is increasing

Rob Stubbs, Head of Dispute Resolution at leading regional law firm Banner Jones, says the disputes can often result in expensive High Court proceedings.

However, he adds that many could be avoided with careful planning and legal support.

“The number of Will and inheritance claims is increasing. Unless treated carefully, inheritance and Will disputes can result in family conflicts that can have long-lasting impacts.

“It’s important for anyone affected by a Will or inheritance dispute to seek legal support.”

A range of factors has fuelled the rise in the number of Will and inheritance disputes.

Extended families: Families are increasingly complicated, often involving second, and even third marriages and step-children,

Ageing population: People are living longer, and therefore amassing more wealth meaning that estate values become more significant,

Property values: Many people own properties that have grown in value over the past ten years.

According to Rob, the growth in extended family networks following remarriage has had a significant impact on the number of claims from disappointed step-children.

Many couples who remarry may not be aware that under UK intestacy law, step-children do not automatically inherit. Indeed, the only way a step-parent can ensure they do, is to include their wishes in a valid Will.

Contesting a Will

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of claim.

The validity of a Will could be contested because it does not comply with the required formalities, such as it not being signed or properly witnessed.

This could arise where a home made Will has been prepared or where a solicitor/Will writer has made a mistake when drafting it.

Alternatively, a Will may be invalid because the person writing it did not have the required mental capacity to make important decisions. Or it could be that they were subject to undue influence by a third party.

Rob says: “We represented a client in a challenge to their mother’s Will which they believe had been changed in unusual and suspicious circumstances.

“We were able to establish that the later Will was in fact invalid so that the provisions of her previous Will would take effect.”

A person may still be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision of Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”) even if the Will is valid or even if there’s no Will.

The 1975 Act allows a range of potential claimants to seek a reasonable financial provision from an estate, where a Will or intestacy (where the deceased has not left a Will) does not make sufficient provision.

Making a claim

People who can make a claim include spouses, cohabitees, children and people who were financially maintained by the deceased.

The complexities and personal issues involved in inheritance and Will disputes can quickly escalate, which is why it’s best to seek expert legal support.

The Dispute Resolution team at Banner Jones has wide experience of dealing with parties on both sides of Will and inheritance disputes.

Mr Stubbs says “We always give careful consideration to the family relationships as opposed to the purely commercial and financial considerations.

“We always seek where possible to resolve a case by negotiation or mediation between the parties, with a view to hopefully avoiding the need for expensive litigation in Court.”

Banner Jones offers assistance to families on both sides of a dispute involving a Will or estate. It can help to draft a suitable and up to date Will, helping to avoid future disputes.

Are you affected by a dispute over an inheritance or will? Banner Jones expert legal team is available to help at www.bannerjones.co.uk