The number of family disputes over wills and inheritance has risen sharply over the last five years.
This is partly due to the increasing number of people having second marriages and relationships. More complicated family networks can lead to conflict.
A typical problem might arise when a man marries for a second time but then leaves most of his wealth to the children of his first marriage. The second wife may feel she hasn’t been provided for adequately and decide to challenge the will.
The problem also occurs the other way round with a man leaving all his estate to his second wife and nothing or very little to the children of his first marriage.
Such children may well be adults in their thirties and forties and they find it very hard to accept that the wealth their father built up in a long marriage with their mother should suddenly be left to a second wife who may only have been with him for a few years.
It’s a very human problem and the resentment is made worse when they think that their father’s estate will eventually pass to the children of his second wife who may have had very little contact with him at all.
It’s not only men’s wills that lead to disputes. Similar problems can arise involving the wills of women in second relationships.
There are also cases in which a will ignores someone like a son or daughter who expects to inherit but gives no explanation as to why that person was missed out.
Many of these problems could be avoided if people made their intentions clear when drafting their will.
If you want to exclude someone who might otherwise expect to inherit then it’s best to explain why you want to do that. A statement of wishes placed with the will can help to avoid potential disputes. The same applies if you want to leave someone a larger amount than might be expected, such as a carer or a companion.
Millions of people are now involved in second and third relationships and it’s not surprising that there may be complications. However, no one wants to think of their loved ones locked in some needless dispute over money.
The best way to avoid such conflict is to make a will and make your intentions clear. It’s then important to check the will every few years to see if it still reflects your current wishes and current circumstances.
It’s not that difficult and it can help prevent heartache and trauma for your loved ones in the future.
Please contact our Probate Team if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.