Research into why families fight over inheritances highlights four key causes of disputes. 
Worryingly, there were a record number of inheritance disputes in the High Court in 2021. 192 cases were brought by people who claimed they were entitled to a share or larger part of someone’s estate. 
Families argue about Wills
Here are the top four reasons why families argue and can even end up in court to contest a Will


When the sums involved are large and, especially when the country is facing an economic downturn, families are more likely to think there is something worth fighting for. Where smaller sums are involved, disputes are more likely to be settled out of court. If your estate is valuable it’s worth giving careful thought to inheritance to minimise the risk of disputes. 
Physical assets like your home are difficult to share amongst family members, especially if one person continues to live in the property. If you want it to be shared by your children then the one in residence might have to take out a mortgage to pay for the others’ shares or face selling their home so that the proceeds can be divided. 

Business ownership 

If you have a working business, such as a farm, sharing assets can be even more challenging. Often, a family business might be passed on to one person to try to keep it running after the owner’s death. However, disputes can quickly arise if someone is told that they will inherit all or part of a business. They might even work in the business for years only to find they are left out of the Will. If there are good foundations for believing a promise that they will inherit, such as working for little or no salary or renovating property, this might be enforceable in court. 


Family members of the same generation are sometimes envious of the way an estate is distributed. Where there are several brothers and sisters involved, and where there are extended or merged families, disputes can arise over whether assets have been shared fairly. 


Ex-partners and the children of a surviving parent can find themselves in court. For example, in one case a mother had pension assets in her ex-husband’s business. She transferred them before her death because she wanted to pass them on to her children and not to her ex-husband. Due to unresolved conflicts following the divorce her children found themselves involved in a court case with HMRC. 

Avoiding conflicts about inheritance 

Clear communication within your family to manage people’s expectations is the best way to avoid disputes. If you clearly explain your intentions and expectations you will reduce stress and worry that could escalate into an argument after your death. 
Suddenly changing your Will can lead to confusion and the revised version could be challenged in court if there is concern that you were influenced or lacked capacity to make the changes. If you plan to change your Will explain your decision in advance to those who are affected. 
Children should also be prepared to have conversations with their parents about their wishes and intentions. Even if you don’t want to, as a parent you should speak openly about your wishes before your death to avoid any need for the courts to become involved. 
If you haven’t yet written a Will or are considering updating your Will I will be happy to give you advice on how you can do so and minimise disputes within your family.  
Tagged as: Executors, property, Wills
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