27 April 2020
Planning To Disinherit Someone? Be Careful!
I watched the film ‘Knives Out’ the other day. It’s very entertaining, in a gothic sort of way. The story involves (spoiler alert) a family patriarch cutting his family out of his will, much like a client of mine wanted to do recently. It’s a basic principle of law that you can leave your estate to whoever you like: one child and not the other; everything to the cats home; or, as in the film, everything to an outsider. But if you are planning to disinherit someone, you need to be careful how you do it.
There are various reasons why someone might want to omit a family member from their will (or give them a smaller share than another member). Sometimes it is due to estrangement within the family. It might equally be because a second spouse is independently wealthy, or to save inheritance tax.
If you are planning to disinherit someone in your will, there is a good reason to be cautious. In some circumstances the person left out of the will (or receiving a smaller share of the estate) can go to court to increase their share. They must be in the category or people who expected to benefit, such as a spouse or child.
The Effect Of A Claim Against A Will
As I advised my client, if someone challenges the will, it will inevitably have a major effect on the family. A contested will dispute is emotionally draining and a cause of great family tension. A previously tight family unit can easily fracture into groups or turn on each other: it really can be a case of ‘knives out’.
Claims are made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. For more information about claims against wills click here. Claims are costly and time consuming. Legal costs are usually (but not always) paid from the estate’s funds. So whatever the outcome, there is less money to go round.
How To Avoid A Contested Will
Someone intending to omit a spouse, civil partner or close family member from their will should plan for it carefully. While the law says you can leave your estate to whoever you like, that is subject to a successful claim against the estate. How can you avoid a claim being made?
There are two key elements in the planning. First, the will should be well drafted. Second, there should be a statement of reasons. This sets out the purpose behind the will and why the omitted person or persons have been left out.
I advised my client to prepare a statement of reasons, and he now keeps it with his will. When the time comes, the reason why he made the will as he did will be clear.
For more information about making a claim against an estate, click here.
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