Family relationships are not always straightforward. This can be because of a huge range of reasons, from blended families to personality clashes to perceived injustices. Whatever the individual circumstances, sometimes, even small tensions can become magnified when it comes to the issue of what will happen to an estate after a death.
Just as there’s a wide range of reasons why family relationships can be complicated, there’s another long list of things that can make estates more complex. High value estates, cross-border estates or estates that include business assets can all fall into this category. Problems might also be more likely to arise if the owner of the estate had been married more than once and/or had stepchildren or children from previous relationships.
In these cases, careful planning around writing a Will can make a big difference, as can ensuring that all parties have been involved in open conversations about the future. However, unfortunately there’s no way to absolutely guarantee that everyone will be in agreement with a Will after the death of a loved one.
Family disagreements can arise around estates that appear very straightforward, and even within family groups that have never experienced any discord previously. If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this, you might be unsure about where you stand and how to respond.
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Might the disagreement pass?
It’s important to be mindful that losing a loved one can be an incredibly fraught time, and that everyone reacts to this differently. Things that are said in the aftermath of a bereavement may not be representative of how people really feel. If some members of your family seem to disagree about an estate in the very early stage of your loss, it’s possible that they will feel differently once they’ve had some time to process.
With this in mind, we’d recommend trying to ensure everyone has a cooling off period before further discussions take place. This will allow you all time to reflect on your position, and things could feel very different afterwards.
What kind of disagreement is it?
Though many disagreements between family members will be easily resolved, others won’t. If it seems like you can’t resolve the disagreement between yourselves, it could be time to start exploring the legal avenues that may be open to you.
There’s a common belief that anyone who disagrees with the contents of a Will has the right to challenge it. This is a misconception; in reality, relatively few people have the right to take legal action against a Will.
If you think that a Will is invalid for some reason (perhaps because you believe the person who wrote it made a later Will, were not in their right mind when they made it or that they were unduly influenced) then you might be able to challenge the Will.
Alternatively, if you are disappointed with what you have been left in a Will and believe you should’ve been entitled to more, you may be able to make an inheritance claim against the estate.
Do you have the right to make an inheritance claim?
There are fairly limited circumstances in which a beneficiary of a Will (or someone who might reasonably have expected to be a beneficiary) can make a claim on an estate.
You might be able to make a claim if:
- You were financially dependent on someone who has died and believe you have not been adequately provided for in their Will.
- The person who has died had promised you a certain inheritance (such as property or a business) and you have made sacrifices on the basis of that promise, but then did not inherit as you expected.
Unfortunately, even if you believe you or another beneficiary has been unfairly treated, if the situation does not fit in either of the above categories, there might not be any legal recourse open to you.
When to seek legal advice
If you don’t know where you stand in a disagreement about a Will, it can be helpful to talk the situation through with a solicitor who specialises in inheritance disputes. An experienced professional will be able to advise on whether or not you might have the right to make a legal claim, and what the likely outcome might be if you do.
Even if you choose not to take any legal action, discussing the situation with a specialist solicitor might help everyone involved to see each other’s perspectives. This could help to resolve conflict and help all parties to move forward together.
If you were to decide to make an inheritance claim, there are time limits on doing so. Because of this, we’d recommend consulting a solicitor in plenty of time.
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to learn more about where you may stand regarding a disagreement about a Will, you can read about the possibility of making an inheritance claim in a lot more detail in our complimentary ebook Inheritance Disputes.
Though making an inheritance claim and challenging a Will are different legal processes, there can be a fair amount of crossover. You might therefore also wish to take a look at the other ebook in this series: Challenging a Will.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
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