How to Prevent Rising Will Disputes

4th April 2024, 4:35 pm

With an increase in people disputing Wills every year – over 10,000 and rising in England and Wales – lawyers are urging people to take professional advice early and avoid financial and familial stress later.

With factors including more complicated family structures, people living longer and an increase in illnesses such as dementia during later life, the Courts are seeing many more disputes than ever before.

Bonita Walters, a specialist in contentious trusts and probate law at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, says she is not surprised this is happening but there are steps that people can take to reduce the chances of dispute after their death.

“For decades now, people are living longer and dementia has been on the rise. Coupled with more complicated family structures like second and multiple marriages, cohabitation, step-families, blended families and a general increase in wealth – meaning there are increased expectations around inheritance – it is not surprising that disputes are on the rise.

“The obvious thing to do is to have a Will professionally drawn up. A good Will drafter will be able to provide you with inheritance tax and estate planning advice, be alert to potential challenges and put in safeguards, e.g. obtaining capacity assessment if there is any chance of your testamentary capacity being challenged due to age or other health factors.

“The Will drafter should make detailed notes of every discussion and meeting and the execution of the Will, because if there is a dispute after your death, the Will drafter’s file would provide valuable evidence. If you anticipate any disgruntled beneficiary or if you are excluding someone who you think is expecting to benefit, then have a letter prepared explaining why they are getting less or nothing at all. You should also keep your Will under review if circumstances change.

“Make sure that the Will drafter has professional indemnity insurance in place, so that your estate can seek damages if something goes wrong because of their work.

“Very often disputes arise because the family relationship has already broken down. Even if it has not, arguing over inheritance would have a detrimental effect on any relationship. Depending on the outcome, one person’s financial gain is another person’s financial loss. The stress and hurt cannot be quantified.

“Inheritance disputes are complex and require a good understanding not only of estate and probate law but also in many cases mental and testamentary capacity and attorneyship/deputyship and how these apply to a particular set of circumstances.

“It is important to seek out a truly specialist firm of solicitors to advise. Legal costs of running an inheritance dispute are high and the longer it runs, the more it would exhaust the estate. For this reason, the parties are often encouraged by their solicitors (and the Courts) to try to resolve the dispute through mediation, which has a high success rate. Although formal mediation involves significant costs, it is far more economical than taking a dispute to a final court hearing.”

Bonita specialises in contested Wills, inheritance and trust disputes and also in disputes involving mental capacity, property and professional negligence.

Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

For more information about the Wills and Probate team visit Wills, Trusts, Probate & Estates Solicitors – Clarke Willmott

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