Have you and your close relatives made a will? If so, you may believe that when you die your affairs can be dealt with in a relatively straightforward manner. However, according to figures obtained from the High Court, that may not necessarily be the case.
Recent figures show that claims challenging inheritance left to individuals are on the increase. A combination of the recession, which has led to a decrease in the value of estates and beneficiaries generally being in a more parlous position, together with today’s complex family structures and an apparent willingness to challenge wills, appear to be the main factors behind the increase in claims.
Matters are further complicated if the deceased died intestate i.e. without making a will. In those circumstances, the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (as amended), sets out the manner in which the estate should be distributed.
Secondly, the claimant must fall within one of the categories of people entitled to make a claim under the Act.
Currently the only categories of people entitled to bring a claim are:
- the spouse/civil partner of the deceased (or a former spouse/civil partner who has not subsequently remarried or formed a civil partnership);
- a person who for the two years prior to the deceased’s death lived in the same household as the deceased as his/her husband/wife; children of the deceased (including adult children);
- a person treated as a child of the deceased; and
- any person who prior to the death of the deceased was maintained wholly or partly by the deceased.
The Law Commission’s consultation paper suggested that the class of potential claimants should be extended to include parents, descendants other than children, siblings and nieces and nephews. It remains to be seen if their proposals will be implemented.
Detailed evidence of the claimant’s income and expenditure must be provided to enable the Court to determine whether or not the disposition of the deceased’s estate fails to make reasonable financial provision for the claimant in accordance with the statutory criteria.
Such claims can be emotionally exhausting for those involved, place a strain on family relations and can be very costly. With that in mind, it is prudent, prior to proceedings being issued, to enter into some form of negotiation to see if a potential claim can be resolved, without recourse to the Courts.
Mediation, whereby a neutral third party facilitates discussions/negotiations, can be particularly effective in such cases such as these where emotions play a large part.