Posted by Mike Muston, Senior Associate
Can you do anything to avoid inheritance disputes before you die?
Last year The Independent reported that in London alone there had been a 700% rise in the number of cases brought to the High Court involving a challenge to a Will. This rise in claims is believed to be a result of the poor economic climate and the ever increasing complexity of family arrangements. So is there anything that can be done to stop this happening to your family?
Photo credit: Alf Melin https://www.flickr.com/photos/alfmelin
We’re told time and time again that “prevention is better than cure”. Thinking about a dispute that may be caused by your decisions can make many feel uncomfortable, yet it is worth considering whether the following actions may help your family members avoid the emotional and financial strain of an inheritance dispute:
Make a Will straight away
The cost of a Will is minor compared to the cost of an inheritance dispute. If you do not make a Will then your estate will be divided in accordance with the law of intestacy. This may result in people that you would have liked to have benefitted missing out and resulting in a dispute between the remaining family members.
See a solicitor
A reputable solicitor will follow the correct procedures, thereby avoiding issues that may arise in the Will drafting process. I would also recommend the involvement of a solicitor if you are seeking to make a significant change to your existing Will including if you wish to leave a family member out. A good solicitor will take detailed notes explaining why you have made your decisions.
Think carefully about your executors
An ‘executor’ is someone who will carry out your wishes as set out in your Will to make sure all those you would like to benefit do so. Disputes between executors, particularly if they are siblings, are not uncommon.
Unfortunately these often result in estate being reduced by the need to take legal advice and the costs associated with this. A trusted firm of solicitors might be able to act as executors instead. If a dispute between executors were to go to court, it is often the case that a neutral party is appointed in any event.
Who should you benefit?
The starting point is: ‘whoever you want’, being the freedom granted under English and Welsh law. However, a Will alone will not prevent certain family members making a claim against your estate. It is worth considering whether these individuals should receive something, in order to prevent those you do wish to benefit from having to become involved in an inheritance dispute.
Have a family meeting
To many this will seem a controversial or perhaps awkward proposal, particularly as you may be uncomfortable about openly discussing your affairs. However, open discussions may help family members to understand your position and resolve future issues that may arise.
The above points will by no means guarantee that an inheritance dispute can be avoided. However, if you can foresee a problem, it is worth thinking about what can be done to avoid the family members you leave behind having to deal with an unpleasant dispute.
If you would like some advice about avoiding a dispute, or you are currently facing a inheritance dispute please do not hesitate to contact Mike Muston in our Inheritance and Trusts Disputes team on 0800 923 2070 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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