Disputes over Wills and inheritance have soared in recent years, with the number of cases reaching the England and Wales High Court increasing dramatically during the last decade. According to Direct Line Life Insurance, 12.6 million British adults would be prepared to dispute a Will and go to court if they disagreed with the division of their relative’s estate.
Disputes can arise when a person is questioning the validity of a Will, pursuing a claim where they are not due to inherit, or disputing the amount of inheritance they are set to receive. Disputes can also arise when no Will has been left and those closest to the deceased are not necessarily those entitled under the rules of intestacy.
Why are inheritance disputes on the rise?
The rise in disputes reflects a few shifts seen in our society.
First, there are evolving family structures that make inheritance less straightforward, especially where there is no Will. Today, there are higher rates of cohabiting couples, increasing divorce rates and more blended families, which results in ever-increasing complexities to relationship dynamics.
Additionally, inflated property prices and rising levels of wealth make Wills more appealing to contest as they can result in a quick and significant increase to one’s net worth.
Legally, a Will can be disputed if a family member believes one of the following have occurred:
• The deceased did not have full mental capacity
• They were not aware of the content of the Will
• They were coerced
• The Will was not executed properly
However, it is often seen that disputes are less often about money and more about love, validation and importance they feel are owed to them.
Here’s an example:
In 2016, Shirley Guymer passed away at the age of 78 after a battle with terminal cancer.
Just after her husband passed away in 2014, she wrote a Will, designating 95% of her estate to her 11 nieces and nephews because she had no children.
After Mrs Guymer’s death, the court learned that her Will was updated two months before she passed away in order to leave the majority of her estate to her brother, Terry Cook, and his two sons. This change in the Will resulted in Mr. Crook inheriting half of Mrs Guymer’s property in Hampshire and his sons receiving a quarter share each, giving them over £100,000.
The remainder of Mrs Guymer’s estate had an approximate value of £180,000 and was to be divided among her nine younger family members.
The new Will is currently being contested by Diane Stoner, Mrs Guymer’s sister, and Karen Reeve, Mrs Guymer’s niece. They claim that Mr Crook forced his sister to change her Will as Mrs Guymer had allegedly said “Terry is not having my land” several times.
As of 13th February 2020, the court battle is continuing between the family members on the validity of Mrs Guymer’s updated Will.
How to protect estates from inheritance disputes
Firstly, it is important to have a valid Will which clearly outlines an individual’s wishes. If someone dies without a Will, the estate would be distributed following the rules of intestacy and those closest to the deceased may not inherit.
Secondly, there are precautions that can be taken to reduce the risks of disputes. Discussing the Will’s contents and being transparent with loved ones can help relatives understand the wishes of the Will. This also means being truthful with each beneficiary. This can make the outcome clearer if it reaches the court. As well as explaining the Will to the people affected, experts advise putting the reasons for the decisions in writing and putting a copy of those reasons, with the Will. This is not legally binding but can be useful if matters are disputed.
Source: Kings Court Trust
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