Inheritance disputes are no longer the preserve of the wealthy. The trend towards more inheritance disputes has been attributed to a number of factors, including the rise in divorce and second marriages, and a willingness on the part of adult children who have been excluded to sue the estate of their deceased parents.

Earlier this year, estranged daughter Mrs Heather Ilott was awarded a one-third share of her late mother Mrs Melita Jackson’s £500,000 estate in a landmark ruling. Mrs Jackson expressly excluded her daughter Mrs Ilott, instead choosing to leave her estate to animal charities, and yet an eight-year court battle saw Mrs Ilott, who had run away from home at age 17 to marry, receive a significant proportion of the estate.

The ruling focused on the lack of connection between the late Mrs Jackson and the animal charities named in her Will; Mrs Ilott’s reliance on state benefits; and the fact that Mrs Jackson had apparently acted in an “unreasonable and harsh” manner towards Mrs Ilott during her lifetime.

Whilst many people may consider that the ruling will make it harder for parents to disinherit children in future, there are steps that can be taken to help avoid a successful claim against an estate if proper advice is sought.

Another factor contributing to inheritance disputes is the rise of online and homemade Wills which are phrased ambiguously or do not accurately record the wishes of the person making the Will.

International mobility is also playing a part in the complexity of managing estates, where people have lived abroad during their career, or in retirement, as they may have assets which could be subject to the jurisdiction of the country where they are located. This can result in a foreign jurisdiction’s laws insisting on property passing down to particular family members.

In light of all of the above, a professionally drafted Will must be viewed as the preferred method of recording testamentary intentions. Further, the instances where a “simple” Will is appropriate are increasingly few and far between. It is always going to be worth checking with a specialist to make sure that what you plan is right for your own unique circumstances. At Buckles, our international team can also deal with French and Spanish law. Potential problems can be avoided through a little planning in advance.