With no will, there is no way of knowing what will happen...

When somebody dies unexpectedly, it is an awful and tragic shock for all those that care about them. Sadly, if that person did not make a will, dealing with the aftermath can be even more complicated, upsetting and expensive for their relatives and loved ones.

Dealing with a disputed will

Michelle Hayter, Partner in our Dispute Resolution Team, who specialises in what are known as contentious probate cases. Amongst other things, Michelle helps clients who find themselves in the position of dealing with a dispute over the assets of a person who has died without a will. This is referred to as intestate.

Michelle has outlined an example, which shows just how complicated things can get and highlights the importance of making your own will and keeping it up to date.

The importance of making a will

John dies suddenly and unexpectedly in his late fifties. He was fit and well and never thought to make a will.

He has one adult daughter and was divorced from her mother, had been living with his new partner, Jean who is 65, for over 5 years, although they were not married, but they jointly contributed to the costs of running their home. Jean also has 2 adult sons and everything was amicable, both partners got on very well with all the children.

As John died intestate, the division of his assets would be determined under the intestacy rules.

As his only next of kin, John’s daughter would inherit his whole estate. Jean would not be provided for at all under the intestacy rules.

Jean visits a solicitor who advises that she could make a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependant’s Act 1975). This is because John and Jean were jointly contributing to the financial running of their home, so Jean was financially dependent on John.

Jean brings a claim against the estate, is ultimately successful in her claim and is awarded 75% of John’s assets.

This reduces John’s daughter’s inheritance substantially. The process takes over a year and the relationship between Jean and John’s daughter becomes very bitter and fraught.

Who did he wish to inherit his estate?

One of the key factors in the case was that John’s daughter firmly believed that her father had wanted her to inherit his estate whereas Jean firmly believed that John would have wanted to provide for her. The problem was that neither truly knew what John’s wishes were as he did not make a will.

Guidance while everything is amicable

Michelle says “This example highlights the importance of making a will with the guidance of a solicitor who will talk you through scenarios that you may not think of yourself, it may not prevent a claim but in this case, knowing what John wanted may have helped his daughter and Jean settle the matter more amicably. Where things are amicable, a will can help people come to terms with the wishes of the person that they have lost. Cases where someone has died intestate can quickly become argumentative, because everyone is still dealing with their shock and grief at the same time and they do not know what the person who has died would have wanted.”

Specialist solicitors

Frettens are one of a small number of firms in the area who specialise in handling the complexities of these disputes. We can help you bring or defend a claim over a will or an inheritance. Michelle has successfully completed the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) course which demonstrates her expertise in this field.

Our Dispute Resolution Team, based in Christchurch, also cover Bournemouth, Poole and the New Forest. If you have any questions, you only have to ask us at Frettens. Please call 01202 499255 and Michelle or her team, will be happy to chat about your situation and you particular requirements.