Finding a Peaceful Solution to Disputes over Wills and Estates

Losing a loved one, whether it’s a spouse, relative, or friend, can be one of the worst experiances that you can go through. The last thing that you need when a loved one passes is to get into a dispute about the contents of their will and the division of their estate.

However, disputes over wills and estates is not an uncommon occurrence. Large numbers of disputes arise over wills in the UK, each and every year. In 2014 alone, there were 178 individual court cases surrounding contentious probate, a figure that was almost twice the amount seen in 2013.

When disputes arise over a will, emotions are normally high. The disputes generally arise between family members, children, and partners, who have discovered that either there is no valid will, or the will in question is not what they were expecting.

So, what can be done in the event of a will dispute, and what exactly constitutes the main forms of disputes?

What Is Classed as a Dispute?

Under English Law, a will entitles an individual to divide their assets however they wish. However, this is contradicted by the Inheritance Dependants Act of 1975, allowing for challenges to be made to the will under certain conditions.

There are a number of reasons why a dispute may arise, with common disputes, and grounds for potential challenge, being over:

  • The amount of inheritiance and to whom the inheritiance is for
  • The mental capacity of the deceased when making the will
  • Issues with decisions over executors
  • Any act of coercion when the will was created
  • Fraudulent behaviour
  • Wills that were not drafted properly
  • Issues with power of attorney
  • Problems with trusts
    If the will itself is not being contested, but the estate and assets, then disputes could arise over how the estate is to be split. Where the will was not clear in how assets should be divided, then problems could arise over whether to sell certain assets, and who is entitled to receive certain assets.

Disputes over the Absence of a Will

Another common problem that can result in significant dispute, is the event of a person passing without having made provisions in a will. Where there is no will, often disputes can arise over who is entitled to what assets, and occasionally, who will take on the role as an administrator of the estate. These cases are known as intestacy.

Normal procedure in the case of intestacy, is for the spouse of the deceased party to inherit the majority of the estate, or the entire estate if the deceased had no children. In cases where there are children involved, the spouse will receive the first £250,000 of assets and a 50% share of the assets after that point. Children of the deceased, or in some cases grandchildren, would then be entitled to receive the other half of the assets.

If the deceased has no spouse, the children, or grandchildren, would be entitled to receive the estate. The line of next of kin inheritance then falls to the parents of the deceased, and then to the closest siblings of the deceased.

What Can Be Done When a Dispute Arises?

If the will or estate dispute cannot be solved between the beneficiaries of the estate, the executor, or through mediation services, then the next step is to challenge the will or the division of the estate. There are a number of people who are entitled to challenge a will, including:

  • A spouse/civil partner
  • Children or individuals treated as children
  • An ex-spouse/civil partner
  • Any dependants of the deceased immediately prior to the death of the deceased
  • A partner of the deceased who coinhabited the same property for at least two years prior to the death of the deceased
    To challenge the will, proof that there are grounds for dispute, or that the will was invalid, as per the Wills Act of 1837, will need to be provided. For all instances of will challenges, it’s essential to make sure that you have full legal support, such as in the form of a London lawyer, who can provide advice on will and probate law.

If you’re considering contesting a will before, during, or after probate, or you’re concerned about disputes over a will or estate, reach out to our team of top solicitors in the UK, today.