Inheritance disputes: How a will could ensure a seamless transfer of your assets

While it can often be challenging to consider events such as your passing, being proactive and preparing for the unexpected can ensure that your loved ones won’t argue over the division of your assets.

The number of inheritance disputes, of which there are roughly 10,000 in England and Wales each year according to the Guardian, underscores the importance of having an updated will to reflect your wishes clearly. 

Furthermore, the number of disputes that went in front of judges rose from 145 in 2017/18 to 195 in 2021/22, with many more likely settled out of court. 

Continue reading to discover why inheritance disputes can happen, and how a clear will could ensure that your loved ones don’t argue over your assets after you pass away. 

A rise in “DIY wills” may be contributing to an increased number of inheritance disputes

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people around the country likely started worrying about their health and the future. 

As a result, many around the country created wills themselves— aptly named “DIY wills”—in case something happened to them. 

This is when you create your own will without seeking the help of a professional. While this could, in theory, save you money on solicitor fees in the short term, the downsides often outweigh the benefits. 

Indeed, one of the greatest dangers of creating your own will without professional help is that it may not be valid. In fact, for the courts to consider a last will and testament legal in the UK, it must have been:

  • Made by a person over the age of 18
  • Made voluntarily without pressure
  • Made by a person of sound mind
  • Signed by the person making the will in the presence of two witnesses
  • Signed by the two witnesses in the presence of the person making the will.

Additionally, there are several rules regarding who can witness the signing of your will. For instance, it can’t be someone who benefits from it or someone you’re related to. 

As you can see, the rules regarding your will can be somewhat complex, and making a mistake can invalidate it. Considering that having an invalid will is essentially the same as not having one at all, this would see your estate divided according to the rules of intestacy, which may go against your wishes.

Furthermore, your loved ones may argue over the division of your assets when you pass away, and this may end up costing your family more in legal costs. 

Moreover, since your family members won’t be able to access your assets until the dispute is resolved, they won’t be able to make the most of your wealth for some time after you pass away. If this is the case, they may be unable to pay important bills, such as funeral costs or a potential Inheritance Tax (IHT) charge.

On top of this, inheritance disputes often have lasting adverse effects on your loved ones’ relationships. Since you’ve just passed away, the grief and stress your loved ones are experiencing, coupled with a dispute, could be the “perfect storm” of issues that amplify their negative emotions and cause long-lasting divides between them. 

A watertight will could help prevent inheritance disputes

Thankfully, having a professionally written will can be an invaluable tool for avoiding familial disputes after you pass away.

This is because it can properly lay out your wishes and ensure that your loved ones know exactly how you want your assets to be divided.

However, even though a will can be a source of comfort at a time of sadness for your family, research from Canada Life shows that 50% of UK adults still don’t have a will in place.

Even if you do have one, it’s essential to ensure it’s as watertight as possible and accurately reflects your current situation and wishes. Read on to discover how to make sure your will is entirely above board. 

Ensure the will is valid

For a will to be “valid”, it must be properly drawn up with the correct legal procedure in mind, and witnessed by at least two other people.

It may also be worth ensuring that no one can make any claims that someone influenced your decisions, or that you weren’t of sound mind when you wrote it. 

To do so, it can be helpful to work with a legal professional while you write your will, and you may want to attend alone so that any person present at the meeting can’t be accused of influencing your decisions. 

To add further value to your will, it may be worth obtaining a capacity report from your GP that confirms you are of sound mind, especially if you’re over the age of 70 or have a history of mental illness. 

Keep your will updated

Your will is a “live document” so it’s important to ensure that it stays as up to date as possible. This is especially the case after any significant life events, such as marriage, divorce, or welcoming new children into the family. 

If you fail to keep your will up to date, your assets may end up with someone you did not plan for. Moreover, a dispute could arise if you leave someone out of your will.

It’s vital to remember that, in England and Wales, if you’re cohabiting with someone but aren’t married, they won’t have the same automatic rights to your wealth as a spouse or civil partner. 

This is why it’s vital to reflect cohabitation in your will, otherwise your partner may not be entitled to your property or assets after you pass away. 

Similarly, a new marriage invalidates your previous will in England and Wales and makes it void. This means that if you marry or remarry, it can be prudent to ensure that you update your will to reflect your new circumstances.

Have a plan for estranged family members

If you have any estranged family members, it’s essential to carefully consider the impact of removing them from your will or leaving them less than they expect. Otherwise, they may contest the will when you pass away. 

It may be wise to create a separate document or a letter of wishes (which you can read more about later) detailing why you’ve removed certain family members or friends from your will, or why they’ve been left less than others.

Furthermore, if you suspect someone will try to contest your will, you could potentially avoid challenges by placing your assets in a trust. 

Trusts can benefit those you wish to leave your wealth to, as they typically don’t form part of your estate and can’t be challenged in court. 

Write a “letter of wishes”

A “letter of wishes” is essentially a document that outlines vital information, such as:

  • The details of any assets being shared 
  • Where you keep your vital documents
  • Who the executors and trustees are
  • Funeral plans
  • Instructions for the care of your children.

As previously mentioned, you can also use a letter of wishes to outline your reasons for excluding someone from your will, or leaving them a smaller amount than your other beneficiaries. 

This could ultimately reduce the likelihood of them being able to contest your will. Regardless, it’s important to remember that a letter of wishes isn’t legally binding in the same way a will is, and it doesn’t entirely replace your will. 

It is simply a way for you to expand on and explain your choices by offering insight into your estate planning preferences.

Seek professional advice

Above all, it may be practical to obtain professional advice when you create your will. We could help you devise a plan to share your assets in the way you desire and provide ongoing support to you and your loved ones. 

Then, when you pass away, we could maintain a strong relationship with your loved ones and help them with any wealth guidance they may need during their time of grief. 

Please call 01992 500261 or fill in our online contact form to organise a meeting and we’ll be in touch. As a Top Rated firm in VouchedFor’s 2024 guide, you can be sure that we provide an excellent level of advice and service.

Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning, cashflow planning, tax planning, Lasting Powers of Attorney, or will writing.

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