Dirty Laundry – Avoiding Probate Disputes

30th June 2020 Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning

There has been a string of prominent and celebrity cases in recent months which have highlighted a Pandora’s Box of disputes which can arise during the Probate process. From the ruling in the estate of the author of Watership Down regarding copyright, to the difficulties entangled in settling an estate where there is no Will (the estate of Prince) to the rulings against the validity of a Will due to mental capacity and intoxication (Clitheroe v Bond [2020] and Hughes v Rodrigues [2019] respectively), being just a few to mention.

Whilst contested probate cases make for juicy reading, they illuminate what is unquestionably the most monumental risk faced by practitioners and clients alike: the importance of making a valid Will.

Death and the idea of preparing for it has often been a taboo topic, and one which can be uncomfortable to think about or discuss with loved ones. But amidst the backdrop of a raging pandemic which has sent tremors throughout the world as we’d known it, creating some certainty in very uncertain times now carries greater weight than ever before, with attitudes towards death changing as it is brought to the forefront of practicality.

According to a Which? Survey in 2018, 54% of Brits did not have Wills in place. In the wake of the current circumstances, probate disputes are likely to be exacerbated in light of the many of our fallen unexpectedly dying before having had chance to consider post death arrangements.

With the advent of more complex family structures, unresolved family disputes, complex inheritance tax rules and poorly drafted home-made Wills, there is a vortex of legal issues simmering which can often lead to unfavourable outcomes for those loved ones we leave behind. For example, in the absence of a Will your estate will be distributed under the Intestacy Rules, which disinherits any unmarried partners and step-children, and may lead to a situation where legacies are paid to those whom you may not have intended to inherit. Here at JMW, we have a wealth of experience in Wills and Estate Planning, and can offer you professional and practical advice to give you peace of mind.

Important things to consider include: who you would like to inherit your estate, whether you are married or an unmarried couple, any previous marriages and children from them, your funeral wishes, appointing guardians for your children and directing how any money left to children should be distributed to them, and preserving family wealth by virtue of incorporating trusts into your Wills. In addition, did you know that as of 20 May 2020 all adults are now considered to be organ donors when they die, unless you specifically opt out? Whilst this is not normally something we would look to include in a Will, it is something to address if this is an important issue to you. Other considerations include making a Lasting Powers of Attorney which can give your loved ones the power to make decisions on your behalf regarding your property, finances and health and wellbeing when you no longer have capacity to do so yourself. 

If you would like more information about how we can help you to draft a Will, make a Lasting Power of Attorney or provide Estate Planning advice, we offer an initial call free of charge to discuss your circumstances and requirements. Please contact us on 0345 241 5305.

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Kelly Hurst is a Trainee Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Trainee Solicitors department

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