When somebody passes away, administering their estate is often far from simple. And sometimes, a disagreement might arise over the value of their assets or the interpretation of their Will. This can make things all the more complicated, leaving relatives to deal with not only the emotional side of the loss, but also a stressful dispute to resolve.
Why do disputes occur?
Probate disputes are on the rise for a number of reasons, including:
- Second marriages and extended families causing debate over the distribution of inheritance
- People choosing not to get married
- Wills being made or changed later in life, resulting in concerns that the deceased may not have been of sound mind at the time
- Higher property prices pushing up the value of estates. If there’s more money at stake, a dispute is more likely
Who do disputes occur between?
Many Probate disputes are caused by issues in a Will. Beneficiaries may disagree on who should inherit particular items such as jewellery or artwork, or a person who expected to be a beneficiary may not have been named. Other causes of a dispute could be that the executor is mismanaging the estate, or that the Will is homemade or unclear, leading to disagreements over its interpretation.
How can you avoid disputes?
So, what can you do to minimise the risk of a dispute occurring between your loved ones when you pass away? Well, the best approach is to seek legal advice, and ensure you have a Will that clearly states who should benefit. If the whole estate is to be left to a spouse or children, this is relatively simple. But if there are specific things you want to leave to specific people, or there are many people you’d like to benefit from your estate, it’s vital to ensure there’s no ambiguity.
Take the following steps when writing your Will:
- Ensure the Will has been properly drafted using a reputable solicitor. Avoid making a homemade Will, as this can lead to ambiguities that cause dispute.
- Ensure you sign your Will in the presence of two or more independent witnesses, who also sign it in your presence. They must not be family members or beneficiaries.
- If you make or revise your Will in old age or following a diagnosis that affects your mental capacity, such as dementia, obtain a report that confirms your ‘testamentary capacity’.
- Keep your Will in a safe place and inform your executor of where it is.
- Review and update your Will periodically. Many people aren’t aware that if they marry, any existing Wills are revoked. You may also want to update your Will if you have more children or grandchildren. Remember to destroy any previous Wills to avoid confusion.
By leaving as little room as possible for error or alternative interpretation, you can help to ensure your estate is distributed without conflict.