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The number of us who find ourselves dealing with inheritance disputes and Will challenges is increasing every year. Recent research reports that Inheritance Act claims rose by 71% in 2021, with many seeking to contest the division of assets expressed within a Will.

After losing a loved one, entangling in a legal battle can put a strain on families that are already dealing with grief and anxiety. Seeking specialist advice can help to relieve this pressure and provide some much-needed reassurance.

Below, senior trusts and inheritance disputes lawyer Michael Henry shares some examples of common disputes, how to handle them and explains what you can do to safeguard your financial assets.

1. Filing an Inheritance Act claim

Discovering that a Will made by a lost loved one includes no mention of you, or that no Will was drafted at all, can add fuel to the fire during an already trying time. It can be difficult to know how to proceed when faced with a situation like this, particularly as the Will in question may be legally valid.

However, it is possible for certain family members and dependents to make an application to the court under the Inheritance Act. The court has the power to re-examine the division of an estate under a Will, or intestacy rules (when there is no Will), if reasonable financial provision was not made.

When an inheritance claim is brought forward, several factors will be considered by the court before a final judgement is reached. The investigation includes the physical and mental health of the applicant, your particular financial needs, as well as those of the named beneficiaries. Acting decisively when making these claims is crucial, as there is a time limit placed on them. Usually, they must be made within six months from the grant of probate.

2. Contesting a Will

Preparing to challenge a Will can be quite a complex process. Firstly, it is always advisable to ensure that you file the dispute before the grant of probate is approved. Once the assets have been divided, disputing the validity of the Will becomes extremely difficult.

Understanding the grounds for a Will contest is a vital step in preparing your case. There’s a variety of options that can make for a successful contest – undue influence or pressure, a Will not being witnessed or signed correctly, and a lack of capacity or knowledge and approval being a few of the most common.

Depending on your situation, you and your lawyer may need to gather medical evidence, or proof that the testator had been coerced into making a decision, at the time of writing their Will.

3. Defending a disputed Will

Being on the receiving end of a Will dispute can be very distressing and bewildering. During the early stages, the basis on which the case will be made might not be clear to you. Initial enquiries may precede a formal claim, or a claimant may adopt a scattergun approach to contest a Will on multiple grounds.

When you are defending your inheritance, it is essential to comprehend the major strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s case. If you have multiple roles your role as an executor will differ from that of a beneficiary during a Will dispute, so understanding the difference is crucial.

4. Disputes involving executors, trustees or beneficiaries

The closest loved ones of the deceased are often trusted to act as an executor of their Will. Whilst this can bring immense peace of mind, if the correct procedures are not followed it may lead to disputes between beneficiaries or the executor(s).

By seeking professional expertise, pitfalls such as overlooking insurance needs, giving property to the wrong beneficiary and paying one beneficiary far too much can be avoided. Our experienced lawyers can help to resolve and smooth out any issues that may lead to a dispute in the future.

For more information on challenging or defending a Will, contact Michael Henry on 01727 735643 or email mh@debenhamsottaway.co.uk

You can also read more on what you need to know before challenging or defending a Will featured in Great British Life.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.