Disputes about Wills and Inheritance

Do you need help with a dispute about a will or your inheritance? 

Disputes about wills, or about how an estate is distributed after a loved one has passed away, can be lengthy and expensive to deal with, and extremely damaging for the family members involved, if the case is not handled professionally and sensitively. Disputes can also arise when trusts have been set up, but have not been administered properly. 

If you are having any of these problems, then Samuels Solicitors, with our particular expertise in this area, will be able to help you. We are based in Devon, but we are able to help clients with these types of disputes, from all over the UK. 


Why do Will and Inheritance Disputes Happen?

There are many different reasons why disputes about wills and inheritance can arise, and the following are just a few examples.

The deceased did not leave a will

The most common reason for a dispute to arise after someone has died, is if they did not leave a will. If this happens, then the intestacy rules would apply.

When there is no will, disputes can arise about whether property should be sold, and about who should take possession of any assets and items left behind by the deceased. The best way to avoid this is to have your will drawn up by a professional.

The deceased's will is out of date

Another cause of inheritance disputes, is if a will was drawn up many years ago, and circumstances have changed. For example, second marriages, unexpected increases or decreases in the wealth of the person making the will, or other issues can lead to disputes. It is therefore very important to keep your will under review. If you have had a will drawn up, no matter how long ago, whether you have done it yourself, whether a solicitor or will writer has drawn it up for you, we will be happy to check it for you for free to let you know whether it is compliant with the rules.  

The increase in second marriages and second and step-families means that a properly drafted will is more important than ever to avoid disputes occurring after someone has died.

The deceased did not leave provision for a spouse

The law says that certain family members must be provided for in a will. Disputes can therefore arise where a will fails to make provision for:

  • a spouse;
  • a cohabitee;
  • a former spouse;
  • certain classes of children; or
  • other dependents.

The law in this area changes regularly and it is important to take up to date expert advice. If you have already got a will, and you are not sure whether you have made adequate provision for certain family members, then you should get your will checked as quickly as possible. 

The deceased will was not drawn up properly

Even if you do have a will, disputes can still arise. Wills are highly specialised and technical documents and it is therefore very easy to fall foul of the rules and not draw them up properly. This can happen even when a solicitor or will writer has drafted the will. There are many reasons why wills might not comply with the strict rules of drafting, including:  

  • using an off-the-shelf will that you can buy from a shop;
  • preparing a will yourself;
  • using a non-lawyer to prepare a will; or
  • badly-drafted wills by solicitors.

Certain organisations use the provision of cheap wills as an enticement for clients to enter into other transactions. In a notable case involving Barclays Bank, the bank's poorly drafted will which had cost their client just £90, led to a £400k claim against the bank after the client died.  

The deceased did not have capacity when the will was signed

Many will disputes arise when one family member feels that the deceased was no longer capable of giving instructions when their will was created, usually because they were suffering from a degenerative illness such as dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.

In these circumstances, it is often necessary to obtain a copy of the solicitor's will file, as well as medical records, to check the circumstances in which the will was drawn up. It can often be necessary to seek the advice of an expert, to provide a retrospective report about the deceased's capacity. 

The deceased was pressured by a family member

Even if the deceased was not suffering from any illness which could have impaired their ability to make decisions about their will, disputes can still arise when family members feel that their loved one may have been pressured into leaving their assets in a certain way. For example, an adult child still living at home in the expectation that they will receive the deceased's property after they die, can put pressure on the deceased during their lifetime to draft their will in a particular way, leaving out other siblings and family members. 

In other cases, neighbours who might help the deceased during their lifetime can suggest that the deceased leaves them something in their will, which can mean that family members are disinherited.

This type of pressure, if it means that the deceased feels they have to draft their will in a particular way, is known as duress or undue influence. 


When Can a Will be Declared Invalid?

Wills can be declared invalid if they:

  • fail to comply with certain legal and technical formalities;
  • if they are obtained by duress or undue influence, against the wishes of the person making the will; or
  • if the deceased did not have capacity when the will was made, for example if they have had a stroke or have advanced dementia.

In more unusual circumstances, a will could be a fake or a forgery. In this type of case, we will often need to instruct a handwriting or other expert who can provide their opinion about the signature on a will, using comparisons to handwriting and signatures of the deceased during their lifetime. 

If a will is invalid, and if there is no earlier will, usually the intestacy rules would apply, which means your estate, or your loved one's estate could end up being distributed according to the rules, and not as you or they would have liked. 

If someone is challenging the validity of a will, or if you think a will was not valid for some reason, then we can help. 


Our Expertise  

Disputes concerning wills and inheritance can be particularly distressing for families, particularly those who have recently become bereaved. In these difficult circumstances, Samuels’ experienced contentious probate solicitors can advise quickly and effectively about what you should do, as the time limits you have to take action are often very short.

Samuels Solicitors have been assisting clients with disputes and problems concerning wills for over 30 years. We have a network of experts who can assist, including specialist counsel, capacity and medical experts, handwriting specialists and others. 


The Cost of Dealing With Will Disputes

We understand that you may not be in a position to fully fund a case from the outset and this is why we try to help clients with fees wherever possible.

We strongly believe that you should have access to justice where you have a strong case and so we will always consider your funding options with you and help wherever we can. This can include conditional (no win no fee) agreements where you have a case with good prospects of success. In some cases, such as where there is a property will be sold, we can agree to defer our fees until the end of the case. 

You may also have insurance, perhaps as part of your building and contents policy, which will help cover your legal fees. We will investigate this with you at the outset and can deal with your insurance company on your behalf. 


Disputes About Trusts

Trusts are often included in wills, and can be complex financial vehicles to manage money after someone passes away. A trust can be set up for the benefit of family members, often for the purpose of tax efficiency.

If trusts are not set up properly, or if they are not administered properly, there can be serious consequences for the beneficiaries of the trust.

The partners at Samuels also have extensive experience of acting as professional trustees, and in bringing high value breach of trust claims against former trustees who have failed to administer trusts properly. If you are having problems with a trust, or with the trustees running the trust, then we will be able to help.


What to do next

If you have a dispute about your inheritance, if you want to dispute a will, or if you would like your existing will checked for free, contact us for a no obligation discussion today. 

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