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Where there’s a Will, there’s a way
Our commercial disputes Associate and contentious probate expert, Alexia Thomas, shares some experience. She gives her thoughts on why it’s so important to make sure your Will is in order – especially if there’s a dispute likely.
“I was recently asked to advise someone in relation to a potential dispute following a family death. The deceased (“D”) had made no Will – but owned assets worth in the region of £500,000.
D was a divorcee with 2 children. He was for many years, estranged from his children. But, for the last 10 years or so of his life, he had developed a relationship with his son. D remained estranged from his daughter – their relationship was hostile right up until his death.
For circa 20 years, D had lived with a new partner in a property which he owned solely. D died without making a Will. Though, his views on who should (or should not) benefit from his estate were well known amongst the wider family. D had made it known to some family members that he wanted his partner to receive his house. D also made it abundantly clear that he did not want his daughter to inherit anything, given their turbulent relationship.
When a person dies without a valid Will, their estate is shared out according to certain rules – the rules of intestacy.
As D had left no Will, the distribution of his estate fell to be determined by these rules.
According to the rules of intestacy, D’s children were entitled to the whole of his estate. This was contrary to the wishes that D had expressed before his death.
As D was not married to his partner of 20 years, she stood to inherit nothing under the rules of intestacy. That said, she did have a potential claim on D’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1927, as D failed to make sufficient financial provision for her under the Will. Under this, she was entitled to such reasonable financial provision as was necessary for her maintenance, insofar as the estate could provide it.
Thankfully, in this particular case, the family was able to reach agreement between themselves. By agreeing on how the estate should be distributed, they reduced the risk of facing a costly claim by D’s partner. Had D’s partner made a claim on the estate (and she probably had a good one), litigation would have commenced – very quickly depleting the value of the estate through legal and court fees.
Most people are aware that they should have a Will. Many people, however, don’t get around to writing one. In my experience, when there is no Will, it can only increase the risk of dispute. No one likes to think about life after death. But, the only way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to write a Will. And make sure it is kept up-to-date.”
If you have a question about contesting a Will, or you’re an executor and somebody else is contesting the Will, we might be able to help. Click here for more information, or contact Alexia to discuss further.