Will disputes –top tips to avoid them
Having spent more than 25 years dealing with disputes in relation to Wills and estates, Mark Jones has come to recognise some of the reasons that cause such disputes to arise in the first place. This has the advantage that Mark can assist his clients in arranging their affairs while they are living and advise on how to avoid some of the common pitfalls.
The following are amongst the important dos and don’ts:
- Do pick the right executors.
The executors are the people who you appoint to deal with your assets and liabilities and to carry out the terms of your Will. It is common to have at least two executors but they must act unanimously which means that if they cannot agree about important decisions the estate can grind to a halt. In the worst scenario, expensive court proceedings might be needed to break the stalemate. A common example of where problems can arise is where parents know that their children do not get on but appoint them all as executors out of ‘fairness’. In reality, if your children do not get on while you are living they are even less likely to do so when you are no longer here. It is essential therefore to appoint executors who will work well together. If in doubt, it can be best to appoint independent, professional executors, such as solicitors.
- Do talk to your family.
We are all reluctant to talk about death, particularly our own, but many Will disputes arise because the contents of Wills come as a surprise to family members. Friends and relatives might have expectations about what they might inherit which may not match your own. A common example of this is where one child has devoted themselves to a family farm or business or to looking after elderly parents in the expectation of inheriting the farm or house as their reward but the farm or house is left to all of the children equally. This can particularly cause resentment if the disappointed child has given up their career to make this commitment while their siblings have forged lucrative careers of their own. Many disputes could be avoided if the person making a Will explained their intentions to their family during their lifetime to avoid any unwelcome surprises. As BT used to say, ‘It’s good to talk’.
- Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.
Many of us dislike conflict, particularly as we get older, and it is not uncommon for people to tell different relatives different things simply to keep everyone happy and avoid difficult conversations. They might even promise the same assets to more than one beneficiary. While this might be the easy option in the short term it is almost guaranteed to cause problems further down the line and can lead to mistrust and difficulties within families for years to come. This is particularly because each beneficiary knows that what they are saying about what you told them is true and it is therefore not unnatural for them to assume that others are lying.
- Don’t see the world through rose coloured spectacles.
It is important to be realistic about how family dynamics will work after you have died. Family structures are becoming ever more complicated and often involve second marriages with children on each side of the family. It is easy to assume that everyone will get on as well after you have died as they do while you are still living. While this is, of course, often the case, it is not always so and relationships between family members can change when you are no longer here as the connecting factor. Wills appointing a second spouse and children to a first marriage as executors are particularly to be approached with caution.
- Do pay for a proper Will.
None of us would attempt to do the work that our doctors or dentists have trained for several years to do and yet many people do not hesitate to try to do the job of their solicitor. Homemade Wills are often a false economy. The difficulty is that the legal meaning of words can often differ from their common usage and homemade Wills are often ambiguous and might even have a completely different legal effect to that intended. Saving the cost of a properly drawn Will now can cost a family many thousands of pounds if a dispute arises later. A Will governing the passage of wealth through the generations is one of the most important documents for your family and should be treated as such.
- Do keep your Will under review.
We recommend that Wills should be reviewed at least annually because the law can change and your financial and family circumstances can too. A Will that is perfectly appropriate when it is signed may not remain appropriate.