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23 July 2014

Practical pointers to ensure your loved ones inherit

With contentious probate one of the fastest growing areas of litigation, more and more families are having to face up to the reality that a will left by their nearest and dearest may be contested.

Craig Williams, partner in the litigation and dispute resolution team, says the practice is seeing an increasing number of cases where individuals and families are at war.

“This is often because the right level of advice wasn’t sought in the first place and details are being misinterpreted or left open to challenge from disappointed beneficiaries,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you belong to an extremely wealthy family or are from more modest means, when loved ones miss out on assets they feel entitled to because of an honest mistake or family politics, it can be devastating for all concerned.”

One frequent reason for contesting a will is where someone feels they have not inherited enough money from an estate and makes a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. This says that everyone has an obligation to look after their spouse, children and dependents on death.

Disputes are particularly common where there are children from more than one marriage or, for example, upon the appearance of an illegitimate child, not provided for in a will.

Mistakes at the time a will is drawn up can also be very costly. One adopted son went all the way to the Court of Appeal after missing out on an inheritance because his parents, for whom he had been sole carer, inadvertently signed each other’s wills instead of their own due to a simple administration error.

The mistake was only discovered after they died and meant that as far as the law was concerned, the couple had died intestate, enabling their two biological sons, to whom they were not close, to inherit the estate.

Craig, who specialises in contentious probate matters, said: “These examples show how much inheritance matters, and underline the importance of absolute accuracy and clarity when it comes to writing a will.

“The tragedy is that it’s all too easy for legal fees to outweigh the value of an estate, and the heartache and time taken make it extremely hard for the family at the centre of the dispute, who simply want to be able to move on with their lives as best they can.”

He underlined the importance of professional expertise and added: “Your will might last a lifetime so make sure you do it properly to ensure the ones you want to benefit are safely and securely looked after. It’s not something you – or your family – can afford to get wrong.”

Craig recommends the following tips to finding a good solicitor:

  • Do consider using a qualified firm of solicitors specialising in wills for private clients – look for experience in this sector
  • Do your homework – research a practice’s reputation, ask family, friends or colleagues for recommendations
  • Do give careful thought to those who you wish to inherit your assets – and those who may have claim on your estate, for example, under the Inheritance Act. The Act is a complex piece of legislation and it pays to take expert advice
  • Don’t always go for the cheapest option – it can be a false economy

To speak with Craig, or a member of the private client team in confidence, call 01753 279030 or email privateclient@bpcollins.co.uk.   

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