How Common Are Inheritance Disputes?

Writing your Will and choosing your beneficiaries can be a challenge. You may want to leave some people out of your Will, but be worried about the possibility of inheritance disputes in the future. So, how common are inheritance disputes, and what causes them?

Inheritance Disputes: How Common Are They?

Inheritance disputes are challenges to a Will often brought forward by a person or people who feel unfairly left out. Even if you purposely choose to leave someone out, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act of 1975 allows people to bring forward a challenge to be included in a Will if they do not feel that they have been adequately provided for. 

New research from IBB Law revealed that inheritance disputes are on the rise, stating that three in every four people are likely to experience a Will or inheritance dispute in their lifetimes. It also found that disputes between siblings are the most common, and one-quarter of people who disputed a Will stated that it was because they thought the testator (writer of the Will) was coerced.

Anyone can contest a Will; however, most commonly, Wills are contested by the financial dependents of the testator, such as children, partners, or ex-partners. When a dispute is brought forward, the courts will review the claims and financial needs of the claimants, as well as the obligations of the deceased towards them. 

Causes of Inheritance Disputes

Inheritance disputes have become more common in recent years and can be caused by many factors, such as:

  • Changes to family structures – more and more people are entering second marriages and raising step-children as well as their own, or are having children with their new spouse. This increases the chance of sideways disinheritance, where children or step-children may be unintentionally left out of the Will. 
  • Dying intestate – passing away without a Will can increase the chances of a dispute being raised. Without a Will, your estate will be subject to the rules of intestacy and may be distributed to those you do not want it to go to. For example, if you are not married to your partner and you pass away without a Will, your partner will not receive anything; instead, your estate will go to your children or other family members.
  • Coercion – around 24% of people surveyed stated that they thought someone had coerced their loved one into changing their Will. If there is enough evidence to prove coercion, also known as undue influence, the Will can be contested.
  • Lack of capacity – for your Will to be valid, you must have testamentary capacity, where you understand what you are doing and to whom you leave your assets. If someone thinks you did not have testamentary capacity when writing your Will, they could lodge a dispute.
  • Leaving someone out – there are many reasons why people may choose to leave someone out of their Will. However, intentionally excluding someone, no matter the reason, can be grounds for them to challenge the Will. 

Resolving Inheritance Disputes

If a dispute is raised, there are several ways that it may be managed:

  • Mediation – many disputes are resolved through mediation, in which both sides of the dispute will meet with their lawyers to reach a decision that makes both parties happy. This approach can save on many costly court fees.
  • Court proceedings – if mediation fails, it will likely go to court. After hearing all sides of the matter, the judge will decide who will receive what.  

Preventing Inheritance Disputes

You can reduce the chances of a dispute arising by:

  • Writing a Will – a Will is one of the best ways to prevent future inheritance disputes. Your Will is key for deciding who inherits your estate, and with a properly signed and witnessed Will, it can be difficult for people to prove coercion. In some cases, you may choose to have a medical expert, such as your GP, witness your Will or provide a report stating that you have full capacity. Regularly reviewing and updating your Will can also help, as relationships can change over the years, so you can add or remove people as necessary. 
  • Establishing a trust – trusts are an excellent way to help prevent inheritance disputes. Trusts don’t end after death, so any beneficiaries you name will continue benefiting into the future. Family protection trusts can protect assets and make it difficult for someone to raise a dispute. 
  • Token gifts – if you choose to leave someone out of your Will, you may choose to leave a token gift to them instead, which can prevent a dispute because they have been left out. This could be a small gift or amount of money. You could also write a letter explaining why they have been removed or excluded; however, you do not have to – you are not obligated to provide any explanation for leaving someone out of your Will. 

Inheritance disputes are becoming more common and can be a worry when estate planning. However, there are many steps you can take to reduce the chances of a dispute occurring after you pass away, such as writing and reviewing your Will and considering trusts to ring-fence your assets. 

Contact The Planning Bee today to see how we can help you with our bespoke estate planning solutions. Our expert paralegals will advise you on how best to avoid inheritance disputes and review your options to minimise the risks.

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