Ill Will: How to avoid family conflict when planning your legacy

The number of disputed inheritances is rising; however, by taking some simple steps, you can help reduce the risk of a family argument during this already challenging time.

A bereavement is often the ultimate test of family dynamics, with any underlying tension rising to the surface if relatives feel they haven’t been properly provided for. It is little surprise, then, that thousands of bereaved families become embroiled in disputes over inheritance each year. Not only that – new figures from Direct Line Life Insurance show that over 12.6 million people would be prepared to contest a loved one’s Will in court if they disagreed with how their estate and assets were divided [1].

Moreover, figures show that the Royal Courts of Justice considered 145 disputes over legacies in 2017, which is triple the figures from a decade ago [2] – this is particularly significant when we consider that many cases are often settled before they even reach court. Such disputes lead to additional strain at a time that is already emotionally stressful for families. Contesting a Will can also have a dramatic impact on the time it takes to administer an estate and distribute the proceeds to beneficiaries, which can lead to further tension.

This increasing number of disputed Wills could be down to various factors.

Firstly, people are living much longer: figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2015-17, show that women’s life expectancy from birth is 82.9 years and for men it is 79.2. This means that many parents are leaving legacies to charities rather than children who have already built up their own assets.

Moreover, the growing change in family structures means that there is often a larger pool of potential claimants for every estate. The ‘blended’ family (a relationship where one or both parties have children from previous relationships) is now commonplace. While such arrangements are very often harmonious, they can add layers of complexity to relationships, leading to potential financial conflict between family members. And lastly, increasing house prices in the UK could make the risk and cost of going to court worth the gamble for the inheritance at stake.

How to reduce the risk of a dispute

  1. Ensure you have a valid Will
    Unfortunately, many parents and grandparents either put off their estate planning until it’s too late, or simply assume their estate will automatically go to the right individuals when they die – according to recent research by Royal London, nearly 60% of parents don’t have a Will [3]. However, if you die without a Will, your estate will be divided up according to intestacy laws, which could mean that your loved ones miss out. Stepchildren, life-long friends and caregivers wouldn’t inherit under the rules of intestacy.
  2. Make sure that your Will is clearly and professionally written
    This will give you the peace of mind that your estate is dealt with as smoothly as possible, and 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 mistakes. Even the smallest of mistakes can have significant consequences on the distribution of the assets – according to Direct Line Life Insurance, the third most successful grounds for a disputed Will are for ‘rectification and construction’ claims, if a clerical error was made in the drafting of the will or the person drafting it failed to reflect the intentions of the testator [4].
  3. Talk to your family
    Discussing the wishes left in a Will with family and friends during your lifetime can help relatives understand your intentions – why not call a family meeting to discuss any plans that might impact your relatives? This will also take 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. Appoint a professional executor
    You may wish to appoint a professional to take on the legal duty of acting as executor of your estate, in order to mitigate any additional stress if you think your family is likely to disagree. By appointing a professional, the estate can be administered with objectivity and compassion.

Keeping the peace

As we have seen, it’s extremely important to take precautions to reduce the risk of your Will being contested, during what is already a tense and emotionally demanding time for your family. By following the advice above, you will have the peace of mind that your nearest and dearest are aware of your wishes and that your documents are an accurate legal representation of your wishes.

For more information

If you have a question about how to best plan your legacy or would like more information about our services, please contact Wellesley Wealth Advisory on 01444 848508 or via email at info@wellesleywa.co.uk.

[1] [4] Direct Line Life Insurance, 2019
[2] Ministry of Justice figures, 2018
[3] Royal London, November 2017
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Author: Richard Rochford
Author: Richard RochfordSenior Adviser
richard.rochford@sjpp.co.uk