As a litigator of many years standing, I’m afraid meeting people who are distressed, worried or in pain is part of my job. After all, I’m supposed to be here to make things get better.
It’s always particularly difficult when you meet someone who, on top of all this, is having to deal with the grief of losing a loved one. I deal with disputes about wills, or disputes that arise because of the lack of a will.
It’s important to realise that, by and large, a person’s property is their own and they can give it to whoever they wish, and this still applies after their death. But in families, we can’t always be like that. Families are units of people tied together often by genetics, but also by experience, history…Christmas dinners.
No one has the right to demand property from someone, even after their death, but the law does make provision for certain classes of people to receive some reasonable provision if they are not remembered in a will, and if they need it.
These people are spouses or civil partners, former spouses or civil partners (who have not re-married), cohabitees of two years standing, children of the deceased or people who are maintained by the deceased. Often, people who feel they have a claim against the Estate are very close to the deceased and there is a 6-month time limit for making claims against Estates, and so their bereavement is likely to be very recent.
This is not a charter to sue your granny for grandad’s lawnmower, this about making reasonable provision so that a dependant can live, often it involves ensuring a roof over their head, sometimes it is about the contribution made to a marriage, or promises made. It all results in a dispute, and a dispute which is exceptionally hard on everyone involved. Because you are often trying to undo a distribution that has already been made, and perhaps navigate complicated trust arrangements, the work involved can be very time-consuming and complicated. This, of course means it can be expensive.
Challenging estates is never easy and is very hard to do without causing significant further damage to the family unit. I can do it, and have done, with good results on many occasions. It remains, however, that the best advice I can give to anyone thinking about making provisions for people after their death is to:
- Make a good, comprehensive will; get advice while you are doing it.
- Talk through your requirements and the requirements of any beneficiary with your solicitor.
- Talk to your family members. Make sure people know what to expect because undoing a will is not something you’d wish for your family and loved ones.
- If there is a good reason to cut someone out of your will, say so. I am convinced a fair proportion of these disputes occur by accident.
If you find yourself losing out after someone dies, contact us. This is a situation which needs good, practical advice and a sensible, realistic, appraisal of your options.