A will is the legal document which sets out what happens to an individual’s property when they die. It is therefore one of the most important documents someone will create.
Property includes your home and its contents, money, jewellery and other personal belongings, shares, vehicles and anything else of value, sentimental or otherwise.
During their lifetime, a person is a legal entity who can be part of a dispute and can, therefore, both sue and be sued. Upon death, the individual is replaced by their estate as a legal entity.
A will appoints executors and trustees to deal with matters, when the testator (the individual who makes the will) dies. The basic role of the executor is to find what assets the estate has, gather in those assets and then distribute the assets in accordance with the will.
If an individual does not make a will, then their estate is distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy (please find a flowchart here as to how they work). These rules set out how an individual’s estate is to be distributed. As can often be the cases, this may not reflect their wishes in respect of both how their estate is distrusted and who is responsible for its distribution. For these reasons, it is very important to make a will and ensure you instruct a suitably qualified expert to advise you and draft your will.
All claims brought and defended in wills and inheritance disputes are therefore brought against the deceased’s estate. The estate is governed by the will but can be subject to claims, such as the validity of the Will being challenged and also pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Inheritance Act claims can be brought where someone who thinks they have not been adequately catered for in the Will. It is for the executors or trustees to consider claims against the estate.
As a general rule, executors are not personally liable for any matters regarding the estate. However, executors can be held personally liable if they do not act in accordance with their duties and to ensure this, they should obtain legal advice.
You may be involved in a wills and inheritance dispute in several circumstances including:
- Your inheritance has been taken away;
- Your inheritance has been reduced;
- You were financially dependent on the deceased and you have not received enough from the estate;
- You are an executor or trustee and need advice on dealing with a claim against the estate.
Whether you are bringing or defending a claim, a pleasant, common-sense, pragmatic and commercial approach is best. In all matters, we endeavour to achieve a sensible and cost-effective outcome. To find out how to achieve this, contact us for a free consultation.
The above does not represent advice or a full explanation of the law. Each case turns on its own facts and it is important to obtain advice.