Inheritance disputes

THE TIMES | Saturday September 24 2016
Frances Gibb – Legal Editor

Children are increasingly turning to the courts to challenge their parents’ wills, as rising property prices swell
the value of estates.

High levels of divorce and remarriage are also complicating legacies, as members of extended stepfamilies
battle for what they consider to be their rightful inheritance.

More children are also challenging donations to charities made by parents in their wills. The number of cases
involving adult children who dispute their parents’ estates in the High Court rose to 116 in 2015 from 104 the
previous year. There were more cases where the parties settled out of court.

A driving factor is thought to be the rise in the value of property, giving family members a greater incentive to
dispute their inheritance.

The figures, from the London law firm Hugh James, show that a last will and testament is no longer the final
word on a persons’ estate.

The company said that increased life-expectancy was contributing to the trend, with many elderly parents
believing their middle-aged children did not need a legacy and leaving money to friends and charities instead.

Under the Inheritance Act, those disinherited or left with less than they were expecting can make a claim. The
court makes a ruling based on the financial need of the child, the size of the estate and the financial needs of
any other beneficiary. Other dependants such as nieces and nephews who may have been disinherited or
received less than they were expecting are also thought to have contributed to the rise in claims.

In June last year a group of animal charities appealed against £75,000 awarded under the inheritance Act to
the nephew of a woman from whose estate they were due to benefit.

June Fairbrother, a retired police officer, was an animal lover who kept several pets and helped several animal
charities with their work. In 1998 she made a will leaving modest legacies to her family and naming seven
animal charities as the residuary beneficiaries.

Kenneth King, 60, claimed that a few months before her death in April 2011 she handed him the deeds to her
house in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, saying it would be his when she died.

Lord Justice Jackson, Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Sales allowed an appeal by Chiltern Dog Rescue and
Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the main beneficiaries, on the basis that an earlier High Court ruling did not
establish a deathbed gift.

Roman Kubiak, a partner in the contested wills, trusts and estates team at Hugh James, said; “The increase in
asset values and changing family structures has had a huge impact on the number of wills being challenged
and claims under the Inheritance Act.

“It is crucial to ensure your wishes and your reasons for leaving just a small token of inheritance or omitting someone from your will are set out clearly.”