Relatives Challenging Unfair Wills in Growing Numbers
- 20% rise in inheritance disputes at leading law firm
- But majority think wills should be exempt from challenge
- Younger generation think passing on inheritance is a ‘moral obligation’ - over 55s disagree
A new survey has revealed some fascinating differences in the way people think about inheritance, with older people determined that their will should be "set in stone"
According to a new survey and analysis from leading law firm Simpson Millar, more than three quarters of people think a will should never be challenged, but it appears belief and action are two very different things with an increasing number of inheritances causing disputes.
In a survey of 1,000 people, asking whether a person’s final wishes set out in a will should be open to legal challenge, 78% of people said no. Yet 12% felt wills that leave nothing to close relatives should be open to a legal challenge. 11% said passing on an inheritance to the next generation was a "moral obligation".
The survey highlighted a marked difference between men and women: 82% of women felt a will should never be challenged, with just 73% of men saying the same. Only 68% of Londoners felt wills should be honoured, compared with 87% in the South East.
Families featuring multiple marriages and children from different relationships are proving a complicated recipe when it comes to deciding who gets what, and the puzzle becomes significantly more challenging when there is a lack of formal legal arrangements in place.
People in the East Midlands felt particularly strongly that Wills that leave nothing to family members should be open to a legal challenge (18%) compared with Yorkshire (8%).
The Head of Wills & Probate at law firm Simpson Millar which carried out the survey says: "We have already seen a rise in bitter courtroom disputes over inheritances – in part caused by complex family structures but increasingly because someone has left behind a will which might seem unfair. Interestingly, the courts are now starting to side with aggrieved relatives."
A lack of reasoning behind controversial decisions set out in wills can open them up to a legal challenge.
Relatives easily turn hostile when they discover they have been left nothing. "The shock of discovering that you have been written out of a will can be quite profound and more people are deciding to challenge the legitimacy of such wills."Our firm has seen a 20% increase in cases of family members wishing to challenge a will since 2005; those that are successful typically implicate wills that are considered unfair and lacking in reasoning."
According to the Simpson Millar survey, 35-44 year olds felt particularly strongly that passing on an inheritance to the next generation was a moral obligation (18%) compared with those over the age of 55 (8%)."Judges often consider it a moral obligation for parents to leave an inheritance to their children unless there is a particularly good reason not to. In cases where the possible recipient is financially dependent on the legacy of the deceased, chances of successfully mounting a legal challenge are especially high."As property values rise, relatives are finding it more worthwhile to argue over an inheritance than during the recession,". Multifaceted family set-ups, involving second and third marriages plus step siblings add further complexity to a potential inheritance – especially if the question of entitlement has not been addressed in time."
This summer, 54-year old Heather Ilott was awarded £160,000 of her mother’s estate by the court, despite the will leaving it all to three animal charities.
She comments: "A lack of explanation as to why a sole or close relative gets nothing at all leaves it open to a possible legal challenge,". "Family members who have not received a share of an estate at the expense of charity tend to feel especially aggrieved and are prepared to go to court for what they feel they are entitled to.
"The courts are now leaning towards what is considered fair and morally ‘right’ rather than simply interpreting what the will says, so spelling out why significant assets go to a good cause is absolutely essential."According to the Head of Wills & Probate, making sure everyone gets something is often the best route to take. "A Will can be as complex as any family make-up so take advantage of that and make sure everyone gets something – including good causes. Otherwise, the real legacy might just be a bitter legal battle."
QUESTION: Which statement do you agree with the most?
Full Gender Breakdown
|A will is a person's final wishes and should never be challenged||78%||73% ||82%|
|Passing on an inheritance to the next generation is a moral obligation||10%||13% ||9%|
|Wills that leave nothing to family members/close relatives should be open to a legal challenge||12%||14% ||9%|
|East Midlands||East Anglia||London||North East||North West|
|A will is a person's final wishes and should never be challenged||75%||71%||68%||65%||79%|
|Passing on an inheritance to the next generation is a moral obligation||7%||14%||20%||22%||10%|
|Wills that leave nothing to family members/close relatives should be open to a legal challenge||18%||15%||12%||13%||11%|
|South East||South West||Wales||West Midlands||Yorkshire & Humber|
|A will is a person's final wishes and should never be challenged||87%||80%||86%||80%||83%|
|Passing on an inheritance to the next generation is a moral obligation||5%||11%||5%||9%||9%|
|Wills that leave nothing to family members/close relatives should be open to a legal challenge||8%||9%||9%||11%||8%|
|18-24||25-34 ||35-44||45-54 ||55+|
|A will is a person's final wishes and should never be challenged||74%||80% ||74%||80% ||78%|
|Passing on an inheritance to the next generation is a moral obligation||12%||12% ||18%||7% ||8%|
|Wills that leave nothing to family members/close relatives should be open to a legal challenge||14%||8% ||8%||13% ||14%|