Inheritance Disputes – am I entitled to a share of my grandparent’s estate?

Please note that this News item is not maintained, and reflects the law as at the date of publication or update.

A recent High Court case has demonstrated the importance of a well drafted will.

There are no mandatory succession laws in England and Wales, meaning family members are not automatically ‘entitled’ to an inheritance and people are free to leave their estate to whoever they like when they die. There are, however, various ways to challenge a will or to make a claim against an estate.

In this High Court case, Frederick Ward passed away in 2020 with property and savings worth around £500,000. He was survived by two children, one son – who had five daughters of his own – having died some years before. The will that Mr Ward made in 2018 provided that his estate was to be divided between his two surviving children only, leaving just £50 to each of his deceased son’s daughters. Reportedly, there was a will reading in front of all the family (which is not as common as portrayed in the movies) and this led to something of an explosive family scene. The deceased son’s daughters then brought a claim challenging the validity of the will; if successful, the position would have reverted to a prior will under which the granddaughters would have received a 1/3 share of the estate to divide between them.

The claim was based on various alternative scenarios, as is often the case – that Mr Ward lacked the necessary capacity to make a will, that he lacked knowledge and approval, that he was unduly influenced by the surviving children, and/or there was ‘fraudulent calumny’ (false representations about the grandchildren which ‘poisoned’ Mr Ward’s mind, although this aspect was dropped shortly before the trial). All of the claims failed and the will was upheld, meaning that the granddaughters were left with just their £50 legacies, an amount far eclipsed by the legal costs.

One of the tests that the Court considered was whether the will was ‘rational’. During his lifetime, Mr Ward had expressed that he was disappointed with his granddaughters for not visiting him during his hospitalisation for a lung condition and the Judge commented that, looking at it from Mr Ward’s perspective, it was not irrational for him to make his will as he did.

Of key importance in this case was the fact that Mr Ward’s will had been prepared by solicitors. Had Mr Ward not taken this step, the will may well have been overturned.

Our experienced Private Client lawyers can help you prepare a will to reduce the likelihood of your wishes being challenged, and our Contentious Probate team can assist with bringing or defending will disputes.

For more information, please contact Jessie Hansford.

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