Over 12,000 legal challenges to wills in the last year alone

20 February 2017

Legal action was taken to prevent a total of 12,287 wills from being enacted in 2016 – most often by disappointed family members – says Wilsons, the leading private client law firm.

Wilsons says that a major driving force behind the numbers are increasingly complex family structures – including, for example, multiple marriages and greater distances between family members – leading to a higher potential for disagreements over the distribution of assets in a will.

Greater life expectancy and the increase in the number of people suffering from dementia is also a contributing factor, leading to claims that the person was incapable of making a will.

Potentially upsetting changes include the removal of family members from the will; the inclusion of new or unexpected beneficiaries in the will; or assets being unequally shared between family members.

Wilsons says that common scenarios leading to a will be contested are:

  • Elderly people or those suffering from dementia leaving part of their estate to their carer;
  • Parents excluding children from their will;
  • Parents favouring one child or children over others in their will (this may be between children from one marriage and children from other marriages);

Charlotte Watts, Partner at Wilsons, says: “The likelihood of families fighting over wills increases substantially where a ‘traditional’ family structure is made more complex by second and third marriages.”

“With longer life expectancies and children and grandchildren from multiple marriages, rivalry between family members can quickly become rife.”

“More often than not the person objecting to a will has been hurt both financially and emotionally by its contents – and the most emotionally-charged cases tend to be those between siblings.”

“A person’s will tends to be a reflection of the relationships they held during their lifetime. This can be very hard for some children to process if they had fallen out with their parent, for example, or if they had always believed their sibling was favoured and the will supports this.”

Wilsons explains that in order to prevent a will being enacted, an existing or former beneficiary must request that a ‘caveat’ be lodged against it, preventing probate from being granted for a limited time. A caveat costs £20.

Charlotte Watts, says: “A caveat prevents probate being granted while it is in place.  It will last for a period of six months which can be extended at a small cost.”

“In most cases, a settlement is reached between the beneficiaries before the case reaches trial, usually with the help of lawyers. A very small proportion of cases - the ones where the parties cannot agree a settlement - reach trial and are decided by the court.”

Wilsons says that if an agreement or settlement has been reached between the beneficiaries, lawyers can help in order to ensure their inheritance is made as tax-efficiently as possible.

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