Inheritance Battles: Unveiling the Top 5 Causes of Will Disputes

Courts have noticed a rise in Will disputes in recent years. We explore some of the most common causes of Will disputes.

Will disputes can be very damaging. Costly legal fees devalue estates, and arguments tear families apart. The best way to avoid a Will dispute is to have a professional draft your Will. Also, whenever possible, it is a good idea to talk to your loved ones about how you plan to distribute your estate.

Official statistics indicate a surge in court proceedings linked to Wills. Some of the most common reasons include:

1.     Incorrect execution of the Will

Ensuring proper execution of Wills is imperative to their validity. The maker of the Will, referred to as the testator, signs and two witnesses also sign to confirm witnessing the testator’s signature.

While witnesses don’t need to read the Will’s contents, they must confirm it belongs to the testator (the person making the Will). Both witnesses sign the Will together, in each other’s presence. Additionally, they need to provide their names, addresses, and occupations.

No changes or additions should be made to the Will.  The Will must be preserved in its original state, without any alterations or markings.

2.     The Will is ambiguous

A poorly drafted Will can create conflict by being unclear or ambiguous. This lack of clarity opens the door for disagreements among family members who may have different interpretations of the testator’s (the person who made the Will) wishes. Emotions are likely to be high during this time, and a confusing Will can quickly escalate those emotions into a full-blown dispute.

3.     The person making the Will had lost mental capacity

If the testator did not understand what they were signing or they were not fully aware of the contents of their Will, then it can be challenged on the basis of a lack of mental capacity. To make a valid Will, someone must:

  • Understand what a Will is and the effect it will have
  • Understand the extent of their estate
  • Be capable of considering claims that they ought to have regard to
  • Not have a disorder of the mind that disrupts their sense of what is right or stops them from exercising their understanding in making a Will

If there is any question over someone’s mental capacity when making a Will, a professional can speak with the testator before they sign to assess their understanding. Certifying that they are able to make a valid Will.

4.     The person making the Will was unduly influenced by someone

To ensure your Will is valid, avoid being unduly influenced by others. It should be noted that if a court finds evidence of undue influence, they can invalidate your Will.

A court assesses undue influence by closely examining your relationship with the person accused of influencing you. This includes looking for any evidence of pressuring, bullying, or suspicious activity surrounding the creation of your Will.

5.     The Will does not leave anything to a relative who expected to inherit

If a partner or close relative of the testator is excluded from a Will, they can initiate a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This type of case, known as an Inheritance Act claim, can be brought by:

  • The deceased’s spouse or civil partner, provided they have not remarried or entered into another civil partnership
  • A child of the deceased
  • Anyone the deceased treated as a child of the family
  • A cohabitee of the deceased who lived with them in a relationship for at least two years immediately prior to their death
  • Anyone whom the deceased supported financially immediately before their death

You can make a legal claim for reasonable financial provision. In the case of a spouse or civil partner, this entails financial provision considered reasonable to provide in the circumstances.

Avoiding Wills disputes

Executors play a critical role as guardians of the estate for the beneficiaries named in your Will. This means they are responsible for defending the estate if it faces legal challenges. Unfortunately, such legal battles can be expensive and time-consuming, draining resources that were ultimately intended for your beneficiaries.

However, a Will written by an experienced professional can empower your executors. An experienced Will writer has the expertise to identify potential issues that could lead to disputes and proactively address them within the Will itself. This proactive approach significantly reduces the risk of misunderstandings and disagreements arising later.  Therefore minimising the chances of a costly court case that could deplete the estate’s value.

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