Over the last 10 years, the number of cases where estates and wills that have been contested has risen; in 2005 just 15 Inheritance Act cases were heard in the High Court, compared to 145 in 2017 and this figure is set to continue to rise.
In 2015 a high-profile case gave encouragement to individuals to take their grievances to court. In the case of Ilott v Mitson, the Court of Appeal awarded an estranged daughter £143,000, after her mother left £486,000 to various animal charities. This ruling highlighted that even when an adult child has been deliberately disinherited, it is still possible for them to challenge the will of the deceased.
However, Ilott v Mitson has not been the only factor in the increase of inheritance disputes. Traditional family structures have become less common in recent years, with a sharp rise in remarriages. Many stepchildren now expect to be included in wills, and sometimes bring claims against other beneficiaries if they are disappointed with their inheritance. According to survey data released today (18th October 2018) carried out across England and Wales to mark the launch of the Affordable Housing Commission, 39% of property renters are pinning their hopes on a family inheritance in order to buy a property and with the continued rise of property values in many parts of the UK over the past decade, this means estates are now seen as worth fighting over.
With the change in the traditional family structure, claims can potentially be brought by a wide range of people, including; a cohabitee of the deceased, a child of a long-term partner, step children of a married partner, as well as same-sex partners of the deceased.
If a claim is being submitted under the Inheritance Act, the time limit that a person has to bring a claim against the estate, is 6 months from the date of probate being granted. However, if the grounds of contesting a will is based on fraud, there is no time limit placed on a claim.
A spouse, former spouse, child or dependant etc. can apply to the courts if they believe that the estate of their loved one does not make “reasonable provision” under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. In relation to a person disputing a will, a will can be challenged on a number of grounds, including; testamentary capacity, lack of valid execution, lack of knowledge and approval, undue influence or that a will is fraudulent.
The most important and basic step to protect your estate and to ensure that it is left to the person/people that you intend it to go to, is to have written a will that has been legally drafted by a solicitor. Although this seems obvious, 31 million UK adults are at risk of dying without a will, according to research carried out in 2017(1).
As well as explaining your intentions to the people affected, it is also advisable that you also include the reasons for your decisions in a ‘letter of intent’ and that a copy of this document is kept with your will in a safe. Although this is not a legally binding document, it can be useful if matters are disputed and can be shown as evidence of your intentions.
Other potential steps that your solicitor may advise, even if you feel it is unnecessary for you to do so, is to obtain a “capacity report” from your GP if you are aged 70 or over, which states that you are of fit mind to write a will. It is also advised that you review your will on a regular basis, to ensure that your intentions contained in the will remain the same. Any minor amendments to a previously executed will can be drafted by your solicitor using a document known as a codicil.
A solicitor will be able to advise you on all aspects of succession and estate planning and provide you with other advice as how to minimise the risk of a potential claim being made against your estate.
1Research conducted by Opinium Research 22-25 September 2017 2,001 online interviews with UK adults.
If you require assistance with wills, succession planning and trusts, please contact Malcolm Turner or Alannah Macdonald in the Wills & Probate Team at The Sethi Partnership Solicitors.
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