It is always a very difficult time when someone you love dies. When their passing is accompanied by disputes over the contents of a Will, the situation can become a lot harder to handle. Feelings can run high if a family member or close friend considers the distribution of the person’s estate to be unfair, or a Will to have been made under duress to the benefit of another party. In the case of inheritance disputes, particularly ones involving a lot of money or property, contacting a family solicitor is often the best course of action to take.
Figures show that enquiries relating to inheritance disputes have risen sharply over the past few years. Reasons range from children seeking to reverse a parent’s Will that has left them out entirely or favoured another party, to friends or relations trying to prove the person was not ‘of sound mind’ when they wrote their final wishes.
Whatever the reason, the process of disputing an inheritance can be costly, distressing and take a long time. As with many issues in life, prevention is normally a far better option than trying to seek out a cure.
5 ways to avoid inheritance disputes
If you want to ensure that your Will remains clear of any inheritance disputes, or you are concerned about someone else’s Will not being made under the right conditions, a family solicitor can help you clarify the situation. Here are five common ways to reduce the possibility of inheritance disputes arising after your passing.
1. Ensure clarity
Make sure that your Will is clear, unambiguous and states exactly what you want it to. There is no need for lengthy legal jargon or over-emotional, provocative statements. It must, however, be legally and factually correct to prevent trouble further down the line; A solicitor can help you write down what you want to happen to your possessions, savings and property after you die and ensure that it is legally watertight.
2. Avoid intestacy
If you do not make a Will at all, your estate may not pass to those whom you expect it to. For example, an unmarried partner will not inherit anything under intestacy laws. There is an official ‘pecking order’ of children, siblings, other relatives etc. until eventually, your estate is passed to the Crown if there are no other options.
3. Discuss in advance
Often, people disputing a Will are doing so out of shock and feelings of being left out or betrayed by the person who has passed away. Talking to loved ones before you die and helping them understand why you are making the provisions that you want in your Will could help to calm emotions and clear up misunderstandings.
4. Don’t delay
Many Will disputes come about when there is doubt over a person’s mental capacity to draw up an official document and understand its consequences. Get started on your Will sooner, rather than later as no one knows what is in store for them further down the line. You can always update it later on if life changes or you want to reverse any decisions.
5. Protect against undue influence
This can be harder to do if you are enmeshed in a situation where someone could be placing undue influence on you to change your Will in their favour. It is not always obvious at the time. However, you should always watch out for this happening to others in your circle, as well as ask trusted friends or relatives to keep an eye on you and your own circumstances.
How to dispute an inheritance
If, however, the Will in question has already been drawn up and the person has died, the first step should be trying to reconcile all parties amicably to reach a mutually agreed conclusion. This is the least distressing and cheapest option to settle matters and can protect and help maintain cordial family relationships or friendships.
In situations where this is impossible and people feel that there is something erroneous, unfair or potentially harmful within the Will that cannot be resolved without legal help, contacting a family solicitor is a next action to consider. While legal costs can be high, the opportunity to resolve matters in a professional and effective manner can save additional years of financial commitment and emotional hurt. Often, having a neutral third -party involved can calm feelings and help clarify a situation. Services such as mediation and alternative dispute resolution can be incredibly helpful too and help keep legal costs down.
If the dispute is around the sale or otherwise of a property, this could require more specialist legal help and advice. For example, if someone has cared for an aging parent more than their sibling has, having given up a career to do so, there could be issues around whether they want to stay on in the property as opposed to other family members wanting to sell it and split the proceeds. In cases like this, having access to professional legal support to help each side present their case to a judge can be invaluable in sorting out a difficult situation.
For more information and advice about inheritance disputes, contact Shortlands Solicitors today for a non-obligation, initial appointment with one of our experts.