The number of inheritance disputes has risen to a record high. The High Court saw 116 challenges against estates in 2015, an 11% rise on the previous year.
Extraordinarily this number pales in comparison to the number of family disputes which are either settled by agreement or end up in the County Court.
With divorces, step-children, unmarried couples living together and estranged family members come increasingly complex family structures to be considered upon your death.
When you pair these family scenarios with rising property prices you could potentially have an open invitation for a dispute over your estate. Although it can be expensive to bring a claim, the increase in the value of property has meant that there are more estates which can be viewed as worth contesting. There are however some steps you can take to minimise the chances of a dispute over your Estate:
1. Make a Will and keep it up to date
Unfortunately approximately 27 million adults in the UK do not have a Will when they die which means their estate will be divided amongst their relatives according to the laws of Intestacy. In particular the application of the laws of intestacy can leave a surviving cohabiting partner in a precarious financial position
The best way to ensure your wishes for your loved ones are fulfilled is to have a Will. This avoids any uncertainty about what you intend to happen to your assets after you die.
It is also important to update your Will if there are any changes in circumstances such as a new partner or a separation or the birth of children or grandchildren.
2. Use a solicitor
While low-cost DIY Wills can be a temptation a lack of careful drafting can frequently result in dispute. The wording in a DIY Will can be ambiguous and sometimes they are not signed, dated or witnessed correctly which can result in them being invalid.
Additionally, if you do not seek professional advice the distribution of your estate may not be carried out in the most tax-efficient way.
As a result a DIY Will can be a false economy when you consider the cost and stress beneficiaries may have to incur in resolving a dispute over a homemade Will.
3. Discuss your Will with your beneficiaries
Surprise and disappointment can often play a key part in Will disputes. Whilst discussing your Will cannot guarantee that you will avoid a dispute, making sure everyone understands your wishes can ensure they are not misinterpreted. For example, if you've left money to charity it's worth explaining why you've done it.
Alternatively, you could leave a letter setting out your reasons for leaving your estate to your chosen beneficiaries.