Inheritance disputes are on the rise, with the number of cases being heard in the High Court soaring by over 70%. The death of a loved one is already a traumatic and stressful time and the last thing you need is a lengthy and acrimonious inheritance dispute adding to the upset. Consulting with an expert can help to guide you through the process and offers you the best chance of settling things amicably.
Causes of Inheritance disputes
There are a number of reasons why an inheritance might be disputed, but chief among them is the lack of a Will. Writing a Will is the only way of ensuring that your wishes are followed after your death – without one, it is up to the law to decide how an estate is distributed, which can often lead to objections and disputes within the surviving family. Despite this, almost three quarters of adults do not currently have a Will!
Another common cause of inheritance issues is invalid Wills. In order to keep costs low, some people choose to draft a will themselves, or use a third party who is not suitably qualified. While this course of action is perfectly legal, it is not recommended – particularly with today’s complicated family structures. Drafting a Will is not as straightforward as it once was, and asking anyone other than an expert could lead to errors that make a Will invalid.
However, disputes can arise even when there is a seemingly valid Will in place. These tend to occur when certain family members feel that they have been treated unfairly in comparison to their relatives, have received a smaller share of the inheritance than they were led to believe, or think that the deceased was unduly influenced by another beneficiary.
Seek Expert advice
Inheritance disputes tend to happen when people are already under a lot of emotional stress and feelings are very close to the surface. So it’s easy to see how these types of cases can escalate and become acrimonious very quickly – sometimes causing irreparable damage to family relationships.
To avoid this, it makes sense to seek advice from a professional at an early stage in proceedings. With a neutral viewpoint and expert knowledge, a solicitor can help to guide you through the process, potentially avoiding the need for litigation and costly court proceedings.
Solicitors with expertise in inheritance matters are able to offer advice and services around a range of issues, depending on the individual situation. These issues can include forged, fraudulent or invalid Wills, maladministration of an Estate, disputes between executors and beneficiaries, lost or destroyed Wills, and the interpretation of Wills and Trusts, amongst others.
With their knowledge and experience they can advise you on what to do, how much it will cost, how to fund any action, and likely timescales. A good solicitor should also present you with alternative methods to litigation – helping to increase the likelihood of arriving at an amicable resolution.
Talk to your Family
As with most problems, prevention is always better than cure. A large number of Will disputes spring from uncertainty so, while it’s not a pleasant topic of conversation, it’s vitally important to discuss these matters with family members so that you are all clear on each other’s wishes should the worst happen. You might just end up saving yourself a lot of time, money and heartache.
Maria Calvy LLM is the founder of Archers Law (Solicitors), a niche practice specialising in employment law and litigation advice for both private practice and the public sector.