Will Disputes: What If You’ve Been Left Out?

Losing a loved one is always an upsetting time. That upset is only heightened if you later discover that you have been left out of their Will, or in some way under-recognised.

There are options open to you if you wish to contest a Will, thanks to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act allows people to bring a claim against the estate in certain circumstances, when they feel that “reasonable financial provision” has not been made for them.

The courts will then evaluate where such provision has been made for you, and if not, what provision needs to be in place for you. In order to make a successful claim, you will need to demonstrate to the courts that you had a reasonable expectation of having your living costs met by the deceased.

All sorts of factors will be taken into account here, such as your financial position and needs (both now and in the future) the size of the estate and even your conduct.

There is a host of different circumstances where someone may wish to challenge a Will, for example a former spouse or a child of the deceased, or simply someone who was financially dependent on the deceased before they passed away.

There is a time limit on making a claim though – it must be issued at court within six months of the date of the grant of probate.

The court has the power to step in and revise the way that the estate has been divided – this may mean you receiving a lump sum or even the entitlement to a regular payment from the net estate of the deceased.

The issue has enjoyed a lot of press coverage in recent years, primarily down to a case where a mother left her £486,000 estate to three charities, leaving out her estranged daughter entirely.

While the daughter succeeded in challenging this, winning a six-figure settlement, that has now been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Jon O’Brien, “The 1975 Act opens up the possibility of challenging a Will if you believe you have been unfairly left out, though it is important to get legal advice first. You will also need to prove that you could rightfully have expected some sort of contribution from the deceased.”

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Factoring Dependants Into Your Will

Perhaps one of the first things to think about when planning or revising your Will is who your dependants are. Who relies on you financially or for care? These are significant considerations you will need to think about

Obviously, this could include a spouse, civil partner or co-habiting partner, along with any children you may have. This isn’t limited to your natural children; you may have adopted or step-children you will need to consider. It may also include anyone you have been caring for or looking after financially, such as elderly relatives or a child with a disability.

If you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, it is vital that you have a Will to protect them should you die. If you don’t then the proceeds from your estate will pass to your children or to other relatives if you have no children. If there are no relatives, your estate will pass to the Crown.  Under the Inheritance Act 1975 your partner may be able to make an application for some of your assets, but this will take time and money.

If you and your partner die before your children are 18 years old, they will need a guardian to take responsibility for them.

You may also consider setting up a Trust to cater for the financial costs of being a guardian, by leaving a property for any children in the Trust until they are older. Usually a guardian will be one of the trustees, but it’s advisable to appoint someone separate as well to help the guardians and ensure there is no conflict of interest.

More thought also needs to go into providing for a child with disabilities. If you have more than one child, it is natural to want to provide for them equally. That said, sharing the proceeds of your estate equally between your children may not be in the disabled child’s best interests.

If you plan to leave a lump sum to each child, you need to assess whether or not the disabled child has the capability to make decisions for themselves. If they don’t have capacity to deal with their financial affairs, a deputy may need to be appointed. This is likely to eat into some of the funds of their inheritance.

You will also need to consider whether any inheritance left to a disabled child will affect their entitlement to means tested benefits. If it does, their inheritance may have unintended consequences that leave them worse off financially rather than better.

Again, setting up a Trust to provide an income for the disabled child is often a sensible approach to take.

There are different types of Trusts to consider and Trust law is complex. A good Solicitor, Estate Planner or Will Writing Professional will be able to advise you on this and all aspects of providing for your dependants in the way that you want.