A recurring theme in movies and TV shows is sons and daughters losing their inheritance and being left out of their parents’ will because of something they did. Stories like this destroy families and relationships. What’s worse is that these do happen in real life; they’re not just figments of a writer’s imagination.
Wills and trusts are an assurance that a deceased individual’s inheritance tax is paid and all assets are handed over to the correct beneficiaries. However, over the years, wills have resulted in families fighting each other and friends and colleagues breaking lifelong relationships. Every year, the number of will disputes continues to rise and even immediate family members find themselves contesting a will.
Disputed Wills Over The Years
UK courts handle more and more contentious probate cases every year. In fact, the amount of disputed wills in 2016 almost doubled in 2019. In 2020, right before the pandemic hit, there were already over 100 contentious probate court cases and these were all only in London. This period covered just the first quarter of last year and does not include figures from other courts in the country, so the number should have increased by now.
However, it should be noted that most will disputes often take too long to resolve and many do not even make it to the final court hearing. Most parties typically settle for an out-of-court agreement. So, the figure above is just a small portion of the big picture.
Why Disputed Wills And Testaments Are Increasing
There are legal reasons why will disputes continue to increase year after year, but there are other causes as well.
Over the years, family dynamics have significantly changed. More specifically, second marriages are now common, which means families are extended with half-brothers and sisters and stepchildren. If a will has been created, it has to be revised to accommodate the new members of the family (although this depends on the person making the will).
Apart from second marriages, cohabiting couples are also quite common in the UK. Contrary to popular belief, there is no clear provision in the law for partners who are not married; nothing that guarantees that the surviving partner will get a fair share from the will. Such situations might cause problems for the will executor, the deceased’s partner, and the other concerned parties (i.e. the deceased’s immediate family).
Another possible reason for the rise in disputed wills and estates cases is the increase in the value of property prices. This means an estate could be worth more than its value when the deceased was still alive. Beneficiaries will fight it out with one another if they believe they deserve to get that estate.
Lastly, health issues, specifically dementia, may also lead to will disputes. If the deceased already had dementia at the time the will was made, beneficiaries can file for a claim due to a lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence. This means the testator was not of sound mind (and body) and was therefore unaware or had no idea how or why the will was made.
Contesting a Will
The Inheritance Act of 1975 allows beneficiaries who think they have been wrongly left out of a will to make a claim. However, they have to prove that they depended on the deceased for their finances. They also need to have evidence that they were mistakenly omitted from the will.
These are the important things that beneficiaries should prepare if they are contesting a will:
- Details of the deceased’s physical and mental health at the time the will was made and executed
- Information about the deceased’s financial affairs when the will was created and executed
- Any information about what the deceased said to someone before or after the creation and execution of the disputed will
- Proof or evidence of how the deceased’s relationship was with immediate family, relatives, and other parties at the time of the preparation and execution of the disputed will
Basis For Contesting Or Challenging A Will
The following are the reasons for contesting a will and inheritance:
- When the will is improperly executed. Wills should be written and the signatures of the testator and two witnesses should be affixed in the document.
- If the testator does not approve or has no knowledge of the will’s content. The will was written under questionable circumstances.
- When the testator does not have the mental capacity to make the will.
- If the testator’s signature was forged.
- If the testator was forced, coerced, or pressured to make the will.
If you believe you’ve been mistakenly left out of a will, get in touch with the experts as soon as you can to assist you with the disputed wills issues. Their panel of solicitors will make sure you’ll get what’s rightfully and legally yours.