Thy Will be Done – Or Will It?
By Faye Evans TEP, Partner at Churchers Solicitors.
In recent years, the courts have seen a rise in ‘contentious probate’ cases. Otherwise known as ‘contesting the will’ or, more simply put: families fighting after someone has died (most commonly over money).
Why is contentious probate happening?
There are a couple of likely causes. The rise in house prices has meant that there is more, in financial terms, to fight over than what used to be the case; people feel it is more likely to be worth their while, worth the risk of court proceedings. Add to that a move generally towards a more litigious society and you get a perfect storm of discontent brewing on the drive home from the funeral parlour.
How can I protect myself from disputes?
There is no way to guarantee there won’t be any disputes after your death, however, there are steps you can take to minimise the likelihood of this and to minimise costs to your estate:
- Make a will – the uncertainty created when someone dies without a will makes disputes more likely.
- Use a solicitor – poorly drafted wills are themselves the subject of numerous court cases. Make sure you see a specialist solicitor, who should take time to fully discuss your individual circumstances as well as your wishes prior to drafting your will.
- Be open and honest – if there are skeletons in your closet, family members you have fallen out with, etc. make sure you tell your solicitor. We cannot properly advise you or protect you if we are not given the full picture.
- Talk to your family – if appropriate (it won’t always be possible, or advisable), but if your family know what to expect after your death, they are less likely to argue.
- Leave a statement of explanation – if you are leaving someone out of your will, or doing something unexpected, explain why in a separate letter. Understanding why a decision was made can be very helpful; remember you won’t be around to explain! Disappointed beneficiaries always assume the worst, when the reasons for passing them over may have been genuine and well-intentioned.
- See your solicitor on your own – never allow others to be in the room when you are giving instructions for your will, this leaves them open to an accusation that they pressured or persuaded you to draft your will in certain terms.
- Don’t put it off! – many wills are contested because the deceased was very ill or on medication at the time of writing it. Put your will in place while you are well, able to give time to considering it and there are no questions as to your mental capacity.
Finding a Wills and Probate Solicitor
The Law Society, STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), and SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly), all have details of suitably qualified and regulated specialist solicitors who can advise you further.
If you have any questions or wish to seek advice on any issue concerning the writing of a will, management of an estate or lasting power of attorney, please call Faye or someone from her team on 023 9282 0747.