Inheritance Disputes on the Increase

On the 24 September 2016, The Times featured an article with the following headline: 

“House price boom produces surge in inheritance disputes”

The article describes how court proceedings relating to disputes about Wills are increasing and analyses the factors that may be behind this increase including: 

  • Rising property prices so that children have more to fight over; 
  • High levels of divorce and re-marriage complicate legacies and members of extended step-families battle for what they consider to be their rightful inheritance; 
  • Increased life-expectancy may lead to elderly parents believing their middle-aged children did not need a legacy and leaving money to friends and charities instead.

The newspaper reported that the number of cases involving children who dispute their parents’ estates in the High Court rose to 116 in 2015 from 104 the previous year. There were more cases where the parties settled out of court.

The most common types of claim are those that challenge the validity of the Will and Inheritance Act claims.  

A Will can only be challenged if there is evidence that the deceased lacked capacity, did not understand what they were doing or was coerced or unduly influenced when making the Will or the Will does not comply with formalities.  To reduce the risk of a challenge to your Will you should take advice from an experienced professional. 

When you give instructions for your Will, the professional will take the following steps to reduce any risk of challenge:

  • They will ensure that they keep clear notes setting out your instructions, and record any reasons for your decisions about different family members or friends. 
  • They will ensure that you are competent to make a Will and if there is any question of capacity they can take steps to prevent a challenge on grounds of capacity by instructing a medical professional to provide written confirmation that you do have capacity.  
  • They will also ensure that family members or friends that may be accused of coercion or undue influence are not present.
  • They will ensure that all proper formalities for execution and witnessing of the Will are observed.  

An Inheritance Act claim can be made by anyone who is eligible under the statute.  This includes husbands, wives, civil partners, children of the deceased (including adopted children), any person who was treated as a child of the deceased, and any other person who immediately before the person’s death was being maintained by the deceased.  Finally, anyone who has lived in the same household as the deceased as husband or wife for a period of at least 2 years prior to the date of death can also make a claim.       

If there is an Inheritance Act claim against your estate the court will consider the financial circumstances of the applicant and all other parties.  The court will also consider conduct of all parties, and will consider any written instructions or reasons that you gave to explain your decisions regarding your estate.  

After you die you may not be able to prevent an Inheritance Act claim but you can take steps before you die to minimise the risk.  Talk to all the people that may expect to receive a share of your estate and tell them what you are planning to do and speak to an experienced professional for advice.

For further information or to discuss any of these issues please contact