Inheritance Act Claims – The Rules Around Challenging a Will

A recent survey has revealed that one in four people would mount a legal challenge against a loved one’s Will if they felt they hadn’t been properly provided for. The research, carried out by Direct Line, found that 24% of people say they would mount a legal challenge against a loved one’s will if they were unhappy with it.

These results follow the statistics seen in real life; there has been a reported rise in Inheritance Act Claims over recent years.

But what are the rules surrounding Inheritance Act Claims and why are they becoming more commonplace?

The law surrounding Inheritance Act Claims

The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 makes it possible to bring a claim against an estate of a deceased person where ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been made for them.
Under this legislation, certain individuals can raise a legal dispute where they have been left out of a Will, have not been left as much as they expected, or there was no Will, and the rules of intestacy have left them insufficiently provided for.

There are several categories of individuals that might feel they are entitled to make a claim against an estate. These are:

• A spouse or civil partner
• Children (both minors or adults)
• people who were treated by the deceased as a child of the family
• A former spouse or civil partner – if they have not remarried
• A cohabitee of the deceased (must have lived together for least two years before the death)
• Any person being financially maintained in some way by the deceased.

One important rule that potential applicants need to be aware of is that court proceedings for a claim against an estate must be issued within six months of the date of the Grant of Probate. The deceased must have been a resident of England or Wales, although there are no restrictions on where claimant lives.

When assessing a claim, the court will take into account several factors, primarily the financial needs of the claimant, the size of the estate and the financial needs of any other beneficiaries.

So why are Inheritance Act Claims becoming more common?

In recent years, the make-up of families has moved away from the ‘traditional’ structure, with far more remarriages, which may mean stepchildren.

As the range of potential claimants has expanded, the scope for disputes to arise between rival heirs has increased.

The rules around this area of the law are complex and can cause great emotional distress to those involved. Inheritance Act Claims that are prompted by intestacy create a clear case for making a Will as the act of doing so makes your intentions clear.

Where there are complex family arrangements or you are making provision that may be deemed ‘unexpected’ by family members, such as a large donation to charity or an uneven distribution between children, it may be advisable to include a ‘letter of wishes’ alongside your Will. This allows you to explain the reasons behind your decisions to family members, and can also be useful should your Will ever be disputed.

For further advice or assistance on any aspect of Wills or estate planning, or to discuss making or contesting an Inheritance Tax Claim, please contact Rebecca on 01457 761320 or email [email protected].

Rebecca O’Donnell is Head of Private Client at O’Donnell Solicitors.