How To Manage Family Inheritance Disputes

Contesting A Will: What You Need To Know

With inheritance disputes on the rise, opting for mediation rather than litigation can help achieve a peaceful resolution.

The death of a family member is a traumatic and stressful time. The last thing you want is an inheritance dispute adding to the upset. But this is what’s happening more and more, with the number of inheritance cases being heard in the High Court soaring by more than 70%.

Types of Disputes

Inheritance disputes can arise for a number of reasons.

The lack of a will is one of the key causes of inheritance disputes. Writing a will helps to ensure that, after your death, your estate will be dealt with as you wish – without a will, it is up to the law to decide how an estate is distributed. This may not be in line with the deceased’s wishes, leading to objections and disputes within the surviving family.

Another common cause of problems is the issue of invalid wills. While it is possible to draft a will yourself, or with someone who is not a solicitor, this is not recommended. Complicated modern family structures often mean that drafting a will is not as straightforward as it once was, and asking anyone other than expert could lead to errors that make a will invalid.

The appointment of inexperienced executors can also lead to problems. Many people choose an adult child, spouse or trusted friend to be executor of their estate. However, even simple estates can be complex to navigate and, should things go wrong, executors could find themselves personally liable and at risk of legal action by beneficiaries and other parties. Executors liability insurance can help to protect executors against this risk.

Finally, 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.

Managing the Dispute

In order to contest a will, you will need to instruct a solicitor – however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the case will end up in court.

Costly court proceedings can prolong an inheritance dispute. This increases the stress and upset and can lead to irreparable damage to family relationships – so it is in everybody’s interests to avoid legal action and find a solution that is amicable to all involved.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation, can be really helpful in these situations – and should definitely be explored before disputes progress to court. Most inheritance disputes are fuelled not by money or greed, but by a sense of betrayal, surprise or hurt feelings. Mediation enables people to air and explain their grievances in a controlled setting and gives everyone the opportunity to work together to find a solution that is mutually acceptable.

If an amicable solution can’t be reached, then the claim will proceed to court.

It’s worth noting that some types of claims are subject to time constraints, so if there is a potential issue it makes sense to seek expert advice at the earliest opportunity.

Prevention is better than Cure

Inheritance disputes can be upsetting and costly to solve and, as with most situations, prevention is always better than cure.

Speak with your loved ones to ensure that they are aware of your wishes in the event of your death – and vice versa. And make sure that all family members have a valid, up-to-date will that’s been written by a qualified professional.

Peter Collins provides LFC executors liability insurance to individuals who are responsible for executing a will.