Gedye and Sons director, Justin Roberts, who is a member of the Association of Contentious Wills and Probate Specialists answers some basic questions about inheritance disputes.

“Why an Inheritance Dispute might occur”

In England and Wales everyone has the freedom to leave their assets to whoever they wish.  No one has an automatic right to inherit anything. Inheritance disputes usually arise in one of two key areas:  the will does not comply with the formalities of the law OR the will is valid but it does not make reasonable provision for a certain beneficiary.  Very occasionally there is a third possible claim in that some has promised you something, and in reliance on that promise you acted to your own disadvantage. Just because someone has promised to leave you something or you have assumed that you would automatically inherit is not, of itself, enough.

“How to avoid an Inheritance Dispute”

It is not possible to completely avoid any inheritance dispute but there are a number of steps you can take to minimise risk. Clear open regular communication with all family members, particularly where it is a blended family or there are dysfunctional aspects, will do much to make clear what you want to happen when you die.  Inter-generational discussions before wills are signed can be crucial providing detailed notes are kept.

“What to do if you have been left out of a Will”

Why did you believe you should have been included in a will?  Usually to make a claim that you should have reasonable provision from a will (but have been ignored) you need to come within certain categories laid down by law. This revolves around being supported or maintained by the person that has died.  The categories of people who can claim in this way is limited and often very fact specific. Also you have a limited time to make such a claim.

“What to do if you believe a Will is invalid”

Wills can be invalid for a limited range of reasons from forgery, alteration of  unsigned pages or  witnesses not being present at the same time. The person making the will may not have had sufficient mental capacity.

“What can I do if the Will maker lacked capacity when they made their Will”

Having mental capacity to make a will can be difficult to assess and challenging a will on this basis will inevitably involve medical reports, expert evidence and witness statements all of which can be costly.  The sooner that is done after someone has died the better.

“ I believe the Will maker had dementia when they made their Will, what can I do?”

Having dementia does not of itself automatically mean that a person does not have capacity to make a will.  People can have lucid intervals and still make a valid will but like the answer above so much depends on medical evidence.

“I live with my partner in their house and they don’t have a Will. What will happen to me if they die?”

If your partner dies without a will then all their assets will pass under the laws of intestacy to their nearest blood relative. This may be a parent, even an estranged parent, or a brother and sister or possibly a cousin. There is no guarantee at all that your partners family would ‘do the right thing’ and stand aside and pass assets to you so having valid up to date wills is crucial.

“Emotional effects of fighting with family members in a Will dispute”

The effects of fighting with a family member over the terms of a will are not just financial. In every disputed case we have dealt with the resultant fallout has fractured families sometimes for generations and caused serious stress – physical and mental. Mediation is always better than fighting, reconciliation better than recrimination.

If you want to know more about any aspect of an inheritance that you feel should have been yours then contact our litigation director Justin Roberts direct on