Maybe you are planning to leave your estate split in unequal portions to adult children after you die, or a large chunk to charity. This may be your wish, but history shows such decisions may cause problems – and even lengthy court battles.
There have been plenty of Will disputes in the news over the years.
For example, the court of appeal awarded Heather Ilott £164,000 of a £500,000 estate, even though her mother, Melita Jackson, had left all her assets to animal charities. Jackson died at age 70 in 2004, and allegedly cut her daughter out of her Will for eloping with a boyfriend at age 17.
What happens if I die without leaving a Will?
While rare that Wills are overturned in court, it is possible if they are considered particularly unreasonable or it is found they aren’t legally binding.
So how can you make your Will watertight, if you fear it could be challenged?
State your reasons clearly
Tell those concerned your intentions. Store a ‘letter of wishes’ and tell your executors of your plans.
While such a letter isn’t legally watertight, it backs up your intention. The more detail you give, the better. This includes exact portions, in percentages or specific sums.
Scenarios may include, for example, that you have given more to one child over the years, while the other hasn’t received financial help, and you want to balance this out when you die.
Or you may be estranged from one child, but have received plenty of help from the other.
Remember, however, that grounds to contest include failing to leave adequate funds to support a dependent or family member in care.
Ensure the Will is accurate and valid
This could mean avoiding do-it-yourself versions. These are typically available online and in supermarkets for a fraction of the cost of going through a solicitor – but if any Will isn’t drawn up correctly it could be challenged.
A Will properly executed is signed by a testator – the person making the Will – and two witnesses. If it isn’t, it could be considered invalid and overturned after death.
In addition, the person who drafts the Will should be independent of the beneficiaries. So, for example, children shouldn’t be enlisted to help draw up a Will. If they are also beneficiaries, there is the possibility of the Will being challenged in the future.
Get validation you are of sound mind
Rules state that a person writing a Will should understand how it affects their estate on death, who their close relatives are and the rough value of the estate. Anyone at risk of mild dementia or suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time they make a Will could find this is cause for dispute.
If you fear the Will being challenged, have it professionally drafted – avoid any do-it-yourself versions. A solicitor’s validation that you understood the implications and were making an informed judgement could help a great deal in a dispute.
For more tips and useful information, browse our money articles