The Rise of ‘Inheritance Wars’ – The Importance of Making a Will
6 December 2023
Inheritance claims have been on the rise in England and Wales in recent years, with the Ministry of Justice reporting that the number of contested wills being heard at the High Court has reached an all-time high. In 2019, the High Court heard 188 such cases, a staggering increase of 47% from the previous year.
With changing family dynamics, there has been an increase in second marriages and blended families. The Courts are now busier than ever with these types of family disputes. Yet many people think that these so-called ‘inheritance wars’ affect only those with a vast fortune like Bernard Matthews, the well-known turkey farmer. This seems a world away from normal life. However, since channel 5 launched a documentary series called “Inheritance Wars: Who Gets the Money?”, real-life ‘inheritance wars’ have been laid out for all to see. According to the show, an astounding one-third of beneficiaries are unhappy with what they have received under the terms of a will and 25% of beneficiaries will challenge the will itself.
The case of Diana Coad
In episode two of the documentary series, we meet former politician and model Diana Coad, who upon the death of her husband in 2013, engaged in an expensive and lengthy legal battle with her stepchildren over his will.
Diana married her husband Peter in 2005, but their married life was fraught with health issues. Prior to his death in 2013, Peter decided to update his will, which Diana explained was done in an effort to provide for her. Unfortunately, at the time of his death, Diana discovered that the new will had not been signed. This meant that Peter’s previous will made in 2005 would stand. This will provided Diana with a right to live in the family home for as long as she wished, with the estate subsequently being split 50/50 between Diana and her stepchildren. This was a stark contrast to the new will that left the family home, comprising the bulk of Peter’s estate, solely to Diana.
Unhappy with her share of estate and at odds with her stepchildren over Peter’s wishes, Diana brought a claim seeking further provision from his estate, a move which was vehemently opposed by her stepchildren. However, her claim was struck out by the court, and it was ordered that the family home was to be sold to pay the money she owed to her stepchildren.
Diana’s case shows the real-life difficulties of blended families and how a person can feel aggrieved if they have not received what they expected to inherit or what they think that they deserve.
Why is Having a Will Important?
The sad case of Diana Coad demonstrates the importance of ensuring that you have provided for your loved ones after your death. With more complex family relationships and cohabitation on the rise, there can be no doubt that having a will in place that accurately reflects how you wish for your estate to be distributed after your death is vital.
Without a valid will in place, the rules of intestacy prevail, which may mean that those you wish to provide for will receive nothing from your estate. Many people will be shocked to know that these rules may mean that their loved ones will not be taken care of after their death. Relationship types, such as cohabiting and unmarried couples are currently overlooked by the intestacy rules.
Having an up to date will that reflects your current situation and takes into consideration any major life event is crucial.
Making a will
According to a recent survey, over half of UK adults do not currently have a will in place. Many think that making a will is something to consider in later life, yet overlook what would happen to their loved ones in the event of something unexpected happening.
The only requirements for making a will are:
- Being over the age of 18; and
- Having testamentary capacity.
In England and Wales, those wishing to make a will are free to leave their estate to whoever they like. Unlike in certain other countries, there are no forced heirship rules that require a person making a will to leave part of their estate to certain individuals, such as their children.
However, when considering the rise in the so-called ‘inheritance wars’, discussing the contents of a new will with your loved ones can help minimise possible disputes after your death. Having open and frank discussions with family or friends helps prevent surprises and can help minimise any misunderstandings that may arise after death.
A comprehensive, clear, and up to date will is the hallmark for reducing the risk of potential conflicts and ensuring harmony between loved ones.
How Can Redkite Help You?
If you or a loved one wish to discuss making a will or you have not been left what you believe you are entitled to from an estate, then please get in contact with our leading team of experts here at Redkite Solicitors.
Our friendly team of experts are here to help and support you at every step of the way.
This article was written by Redkite Solicitors, Anna Perkins. To find out more about Anna Perkins and the support that she can provide to you, visit her website profile here: https://www.redkitesolicitors.co.uk/team/anna-perkins/.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.