Arguments over what has been left by the relatives of someone who has died have been around for centuries. The main disputes were restricted to the wealthy elite as they were the few who had anything of value to actually pass on to others. In the last few decades disputes over the distribution of assets and money after someone has died have become considerably more common. Why should that be?
The post war cohort and baby boomers who are currently coming to the latter period or end of their lives, lived through a particularly prosperous period in terms of full employment, strong increases in property values and solid investment returns. Many people are now able to leave valuable assets to others upon their death.
Family structures have also changed over the last few decades. Second marriages and cohabitation outside of a marriages as well as civil partnerships are more common and there are often greater complications in people’s lives and family structures than there were forty or fifty years ago. Economic conditions that put people under financial pressures do not help either. Basically, the potential for arguments over a relative’s Estate has grown.
It is becoming increasingly common for disputes to arise in relation to a deceased’s Estate and get to the stage where they cannot be settled without outside help. Here at rhw we deal with a number of different claims, ranging from challenging the validity of a Will to defending a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
As you can imagine no two Wills are the same and no two-family situations are identical either, so contentious probate matters tend to vary widely. However, there are some general areas claims fall into and we have listed these below as you may find this a helpful guide to understand where you currently stand:
Matters concerning the validity of a Will –
Disputes in this area arise from several different causes. These are examples of the more common ways a Will may be challenged:
- Where a Will is asserted to not have been signed or witnessed correctly by the deceased.
- A person was being coerced into the creation of a Will and there is an allegation of “undue influence”.
- There may be another Will made at a later date.
- A person is alleged to not have had the mental capacity to create a valid Will.
- A person did not know or approve the contents of the Will.
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Inheritance Act”)–
The Inheritance Act gives a route for those who have not been left anything or have been left an insufficient amount from the deceased’s Estate to apply for reasonable financial provision from the Estate. The Courts can exercise discretion and award reasonable financial provision out of the deceased Estate. This could be, for example, where a family argument has led to someone being ‘cut out’ of the deceased’s Will or where the relative was sufficiently financially dependent on the deceased before they died.
Claims made under the Inheritance Act have increased substantially in recent years. As we noted earlier, family structures have tended to become more complicated in recent years and that has led to greater scope for disagreements.
At rhw we act for clients brining Inheritance Act claims as well as Executor and beneficiary clients defending Inheritance Act claims.
It is important to note claims under the Inheritance Act need to be issued at Court within a very short deadline. Therefore, if you believe you may be able to make an Inheritance Act claim it would be wise to obtain legal advice from a lawyer without delay.
Disputes over the administration and distribution of a deceased’s Estate
When the administration of an Estate is handled by a family member or someone who is not a lawyer, then problems can occur. Examples of some of the areas rhw can advise on are:
- Where an Executor has used assets and money for their own purposes.
- Where an Executor refuses to exercise their duties, makes mistakes or are acting slowly.
- Claims against the personal representative appointed to be executor (SWB comments?)
- Where there is opposition to a Grant of Probate.
- Blocking a Grant of Probate being issued where an inappropriate party has applied for it.
- Blocking a Grant of Probate where there is still an unresolved dispute.
- The removal and appointment of a new executor.
As with all these matters discussed in the article, getting legal advice as swiftly as possible is important.
Do you have a Probate dispute you need help with? Please contact Stephen Bottomley, Daniel Crate and Niamh Cheek, who comprise rhw’s Dispute Resolution Team, on 01483 366924 or email email@example.com