Every year, thousands of bereaved families become embroiled in disputes over inheritance. This often leads to additional stress at an already challenging time. It can also have a dramatic impact on the time it takes to administer an estate and distribute the proceeds to beneficiaries.
Still, it seems that plenty of people are prepared to contest a loved one’s estate in court. New research reveals that 12.6 million people in the UK would challenge an inheritance if they disagreed with the division of their loved one’s assets.1
Figures show that the Royal Courts of Justice considered 145 disputes over legacies in 2017, which is three times more than a decade earlier.2 And these are just the cases that make it to the courts – many more will be settled at an earlier stage.
The rising number of disputed inheritances could be down to several factors:
- The growing change in family structures means that there is often a larger pool of potential claimants for every estate.
- People are living longer, so many parents are leaving legacies to charities rather than children who have already built up their own assets.
- Increasing house prices, and therefore the inheritance at stake, could make the risk and cost of going to court worth the gamble.
How to reduce the risk of a dispute
1. You should ensure you have a valid Will. Nearly 60% of parents don’t have one, according to recent research. If you die without a Will, your estate will be divided up according to intestacy laws. This could mean that your loved ones miss out. Step-children, lifelong friends and care-givers wouldn’t inherit under the rules of intestacy. However, a distant cousin could be the next entitled, blood relative.
2. By ensuring that your Will is clearly and
professionally written, your estate can be dealt with as smoothly as
possible. It also reduces the likelihood of loved ones being unintentionally
excluded. Although a DIY Will is just as valid as one drawn up by a
professional, you should be extra vigilant when checking for any oversights or
3. It’s important to take precautions to reduce the
risk of your Will being contested. Discussing the wishes left in a Will with
family and friends during your lifetime can help relatives understand
your intentions. It also takes away the element of surprise when the time
comes, making it easier for loved ones to come to terms with how your estate
will be shared out.
4. As a final option, you may wish to appoint a professional to take on the legal duty of acting as executor of your estate. Taking on this responsibility when families are in disagreement can be extremely stressful. But by appointing a professional, the estate can be administered with objectivity and compassion.