Sadly it is not uncommon for families to have disagreements after losing a loved one. The bereavement period is naturally a very stressful time when emotions are running high. Disappointments or misunderstandings about wills or trusts can escalate quickly.

If you are planning for the future and ensuring that you have your own affairs in order, you might be keen to do everything you can to reduce the possibility of any disputes arising after your death.

Though there is no way to completely remove the possibility of arguments over your estate, there are things you can do to drastically reduce the possibility.

Appoint an experienced solicitor

Choosing an experienced solicitor will ensure your Will and trust arrangements are written in a clear and legally-binding way. This will much reduce the likelihood of your Will being open to misinterpretation later on. Investing in your Will now could well save many thousands of pounds in legal fees down the line. 

Review any Will and trust arrangements regularly

It’s wise to have your Will and any associated trust or tax planning arrangements professionally reviewed every five to ten years (or any time your circumstances change).

A specialist solicitor will be able to ensure there are no factors that might bring the validity of your Will into question, and that there is no ambiguity. They’ll also be able to confirm whether your tax planning arrangements are suitable for current legislation and that any trusts have been properly set up.

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Carefully consider your testamentary capacity

Testamentary capacity is the term used to refer to whether or not an individual has the mental capacity necessary to make a Will. If there is any doubt as to whether you were in sound mind at the time you made your Will, this could leave your estate open to a dispute later on.

Because of this, it’s important to consider whether there are any factors at play that might cause someone to question your mental state. For example, anyone writing a Will who is elderly, who is in the early stages of a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or who is affected by another serious mental health condition may need to take additional precautions. Your solicitor might recommend that you obtain certification from a medical professional to confirm that you have the necessary mental capacity to write a Will. You may also want to consider asking that professional to witness your Will.

Be aware of any potential Inheritance Act claims

The Inheritance Act 1975 could give certain individuals the right to make a claim against your estate if you haven’t already provided for them in your Will. If you plan to leave a close family member (including someone you have treated as a close family member such as a stepchild or cohabitating partner) out of your Will, you will need to plan for this very carefully.

If you have a good reason for leaving someone out of your Will, we recommend that you speak to an experienced solicitor about it. They will be able to advise you on the extra precautions you may wish to take, including certifying your testamentary capacity and clearly setting out the reasons behind your decision in a Letter of Wishes.

Choose executors who can work well together

Most people appoint at least two executors to administer their estate. This means that the executors will need to work together and agree on all decisions before they proceed. If your executors cannot agree, this could result in a legal stalemate and, ultimately, a dispute.

With this in mind, it makes sense to appoint executors you are confident will work well together. If you are concerned about your family members being able to do this, you may wish to consider the option of appointing a professional executor.

Properly destroy any old Wills

If you have made a new Will, it’s important to make sure you have properly destroyed all copies of any existing ones. If not, it may be difficult for your family and/or executors to determine which Will is the correct one.

We recommend shredding any copies of your old Will. You will also need to notify any solicitors who are storing copies on your behalf.

Speak to your family members about your Will

It is not necessary to keep the contents of your Will a secret. In fact, it’s much better to be open about your wishes for your estate and any trusts you have planned.

Some Will disputes arise from individuals promising an inheritance to family members and then writing something different in their Will. Though it may be tempting to tell people what they want to hear, this can be a risky strategy.

Letting your family members know what to expect from your Will ensures there are no surprises for anyone later on. It will also give you the chance to fully set out your wishes and explain why you have made the choices you’ve made.

Though telling people what to expect from your Will and any associated trusts won’t completely rule out the chance of a dispute, it can help to significantly reduce the likelihood of this occurring.

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