Big rise in the number of people challenging ‘unfair wills’

The number of people challenging what they consider to be unfair wills has risen by 20% over the last 10 years.

There is also a growing tendency for people to consider that they are entitled to inherit their parents’ wealth, even if their parents want to leave some or all of their money to charities, friends or other family members.

The figures are from a survey published in the Times newspaper. Researchers found that one in five people aged between 35 and 44 believed that there was a moral obligation to pass wealth on from one generation to the next. The number dropped to less than one in 10 for people aged over 55.

Courts will often look favourably on a person who has been written out of a will, especially if they are financially dependent on an inheritance.

A recent example of this involved a woman who had been estranged from her mother for more than 20 years and was written out of her will. She took legal action and the court found in her favour. The judge held that the mother had not made reasonable financial provision for her.

She was awarded £163,000 from her mother’s estate even though the mother had wanted to leave her money to charity.

The rising number of second marriages and relationships involving older couples is one of the main reasons for the increase in challenges to wills.

For example, problems may arise when a man marries for a second time and then leaves 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 who 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.

The problem also occurs the other way round with a man leaving most of his wealth to the children of his first marriage and not providing adequately for the needs of his second wife. She may then be prompted to challenge the will.

There are also cases in which a will ignores someone like a son or daughter who expects to inherit but there is no explanation as to why that person has been left 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 will be recognised by the courts and help reduce any potential disputes.

There could, however, be strong reasons why someone might need to challenge a will. Disputes can arise because a relative feels the person making the will was subjected to undue influence by someone who wants to benefit unfairly.

This might be particularly relevant if close relatives are overlooked and the estate is left to someone outside the family.

Anyone wanting to challenge a will must do so within six months of probate being granted.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.