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15 February 2017 | Comment | Article by Matthew Evans

Five steps to ensure your legacy isn’t a family feud


Something which has caught my attention in the media of late is the amount of inheritance feuds which have been reported between the families of the rich and famous. These bitter disputes between family members of the recently deceased are taking place on centre stage and are being broadcasted for the whole world to see through the media.

Let’s take Paul Daniels for example. Many of you may remember Paul Daniels as the famous magician who graced our television sets throughout most of the 80’s and 90’s with his hit show ‘Paul Daniels Magic Show’. Mr Daniels passed away in March 2016 at the age of 77 leaving his £1.5million estate to his widow, and former magician’s assistant, Debbie McGee.

It has since been reported that Daniels’ son from a previous marriage, Paul Junior, has put forward claims that he has not been substantially provided for by the terms of his father’s will. Paul Junior has accused his step mother McGee of failing to support him following Daniels’ death[1].It is not yet believed that Paul Junior is bringing legal action against McGee for her supposed lack of provision but the bitter dispute between them is being widely reported on in the tabloid news.

Paul Junior would be eligible to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. See here for a rundown on such claims.

Another estate which is the subject of a similar dispute is that of the actress famous for her portrayal of the perfect family in the Oxo adverts, Lynda Bellingham. Lynda died in October 2014 leaving behind her a substantial estate[2]. In her will, which was reportedly written shortly before she died, Lynda left the majority of her estate to her third husband, Michael Pattimore. Lynda’s two sons are now apparently considering bringing a claim.

These sorts of inheritance disputes may seem to only apply to celebrities but they are not only reserved for the rich and famous. According to the Financial Times the High Court heard 178 probate disputes in 2014 which was the highest recorded level in England and Wales since 2007[3]. This rise in the challenging of wills could be attributed to a number of different factors. The diversification of the family structure for example means that a deceased may have children from different marriages and this can cause feuds where one of these such children believe that they have been unfairly provided for on the death of a parent. It is also suggested that the rise in the use of handmade or DIY wills may have a significant part to play. In any event, with rising house prices, and the resulting decline in house ownership, it appears that inheritance disputes will continue to be brought by disappointed beneficiaries.

As stated by Roman Kubiak, a partner in the Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates Department, ”the increasing number of will disputes and claims by disinherited children underline the importance of writing a clear, unambiguous will” [4].

So what can you do to minimise a feud ensuing following your death? Hannah’s excellent ten point checklist is worth considering, and I have also added five points of my own:

Firstly, make sure that your will is watertight

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting your will written by a legally qualified person. A solicitor will ensure that your will is properly executed as per the terms of the Wills Act 1837 and they can also guide you with regards to possible pitfalls and claims which may arise.

Be clear about your intentions

When it comes to your will, the clearer the better. Make sure your solicitor knows the reasons why you are making each bequest and even details the reason why you have omitted anything in particular. Having clear instructions on the will writing file can prevent any ambiguity arising in the future which could ultimately prevent any claims being made against the estate.

Remember to ensure that your will is up to date

As you will have read above, one of the main reasons that inheritance disputes arise is because of a change in family circumstances. If you remarry for example your will be automatically revoked unless you have specifically provided otherwise. It is therefore crucial that your will reflects your current circumstances. Your will can be amended at any time by using a properly drafted codicil.

Consider capacity

Wills are often challenged on the grounds that the testator / testatrix lacked capacity at the time of executing their will. If you or your solicitor think there is a possibility that your will could be challenged on capacity grounds an option would be to seek the opinion of a medical professional prior to execution of your will.

Talk to your beneficiaries

This is always going to be unpopular advice but being open about your intentions and your wishes can mean that the content of your will may come as less of a shock, especially during a time when emotions are likely to be running high. If you aren’t comfortable having these sorts of conversations face to face then consider enclosing a letter of wishes with your will.

If you would like further information with regard to setting up or amending your will please contact our Tax, Trusts and Estates department, or call us on 029 2066 0563.

Author bio

Matthew is a partner and heads up the firm’s private wealth offering. He is responsible for the development, implementation and long-term strategy of the team.

Matthew has a UK-wide reputation in the field of contentious probate, recognised by his clients and peers in the leading legal directories.

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