Family disputes over money and inheritance are on the rise, with more people in England and Wales turning to the courts to contest a will than ever before. According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of cases heard at the High Court were at an all-time high in 2020 with 195 cases – an increase of 50% on 2018.

This is just the tip of the iceberg – most cases are settled or abandoned before they even reach court. And these figures are expected to grow as the economic effects of Covid continue to bite and place additional financial pressures on families.

Family structures are becoming more complex, whether that’s through divorce and re-marriage, half-siblings, and stepchildren

Why have disputes become more common?

It’s not just financial pressures that are causing more people to take action to try to claim a larger share of an estate. For many, family structures are becoming more complex, whether that’s through divorce and re-marriage, half-siblings, and stepchildren, all of whom need to be considered. When making your will, you might think you’re treating everyone fairly, but without a frank and open dialogue with all parties concerned, resentment can fester and grow.

Rising house prices are adding to the strain. People applying for a mortgage might be tempted to take on a larger loan because they believe they will inherit money to help pay it off. If the amount they’re expecting isn’t forthcoming, it can leave them with a shortfall, making them more likely to contest a will.

Families are living further apart, some even in different countries. They won’t be on hand to offer day to day help as parents grow older and need more care, which could result in a proportion of an inheritance bequeathed to non-family members such as carers and charities.

Or sometimes parents believe that their children have benefited enough during their lifetime, are successfully making their own way in life and have no need. They choose to leave a legacy to a charity or may even bypass the next generation altogether, leaving it to the grandchildren.

How to avoid inheritance disputes

Explain your decisions

The biggest culprit of disputes is poor communication. Many people avoid having those difficult conversations with family members when preparing their estate planning, but it is far better to discuss your wishes and explain your reasoning when you still can. If you don’t, and someone feels they’ve been left out or treated unfairly, it can cause a lot of resentment and emotional upset. And you won’t be around to help resolve it.

Make a will

It is essential to draw up a legally valid Will, if you want control over how your estate is distributed. Make sure you review your Will regularly and update it as and when circumstances change. For instance, after a divorce, a remarriage, or the birth of a child. If you don’t make a Will, or your Will is deemed to be invalid, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy rules and not how you intended it to be divided.

If you have a significant pot of wealth, the best advice is to start your estate planning early

Don’t leave it too late

If you have a significant pot of wealth and a number of beneficiaries to leave it to, the best advice is to start your estate planning early. As well as ensuring you have time to consider your arrangements carefully, you’ll also have time to seek appropriate professional advice and involve your family to help avoid future rifts.

Deal with any tensions in your lifetime

You may already be aware of an undercurrent of tension within your family dynamic. In which case, you should take steps to address and resolve any issues in your lifetime. If you feel these tensions are likely to cause a family rift leading to problems further down the line, you can appoint a professional to take legal duty and act as the executor of your Will. At least then, there is an independent party to ensure your wishes are upheld.

Remember your business succession plans

43% of family-owned businesses do not have a succession plan. You might have a child working in the family business, whereas the others have chosen to take their own path and have forged a career elsewhere. Are you going to leave everything to the child working in the business, or will the others be left a share? Whatever you decide, without careful consideration and open dialogue, some of the people you love could be left feeling resentful and hard done by.

Seek help from a professional financial planner

Plans need to be put in place so that everyone feels valued and comfortable about what lies ahead. Amber River’s independent experts offer more than just financial planning and advice; they offer a human, open and honest approach to estate planning that prioritises your family’s emotional wellbeing.

Get in touch

To speak to one of our team, arrange an appointment or find out more, call 0800 915 0000, or use our contact form here.