Wills, trusts and estate disputes: The importance of getting your affairs in order

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Charles Russell Speechlys can advise on all challenges surrounding wills, trusts and other financial arrangements that bring conflict to families - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With an experienced team of private wealth disputes solicitors, Charles Russell Speechlys can advise on all challenges surrounding wills, trusts and other financial arrangements that bring conflict to families.

Partner and private wealth dispute specialist, Duncan Elson, shares some of the common cases his team deal with and why it’s important to seek specialist advice. 

Contesting wills 

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The most common reasons for contesting wills are mental capacity and undue influence, says Duncan - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you suspect that a loved one’s will might not reflect their true wishes, it can make a distressing time even more difficult. According to Duncan, the most common reason for contesting the validity of a will is that they are not kept up to date and none of us know when death will be upon us.  

“People don’t tend to change their will for a long time and so the will may be out of date and not appropriate for their current circumstance and financial position, or they change it when they are becoming unwell or dependent on someone and being pressured by that person,” says Duncan. 

“It could be that the person making the will is struggling to make a decision due to a mental impairment such as dementia,  and this may be coupled with a degree of undue influence (often by a family member) pressurising them into changing it before they die. With second and third marriages, finances are often quite complicated."

There is then a claim made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This enables a spouse, former spouse, child or person treated as a child to make a claim against the deceased’s estate within six months from the date of grant of probate to say that the will failed to make reasonable financial provision. "Examples often include children who are excluded from a will completely or a second spouse left without enough money to continue to live in the family home," says Duncan. 

Land disputes and estoppel claims 

Wide angle view of the exterior of a country house in County Durham.

Landed estate disputes are becoming more common following tax breaks and lifestyle changes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Private property and land disputes have become particularly prominent of recent, says Duncan. “We’re dealing with a lot more farming, landed estates and country houses. There have been claims triggered by tax breaks such as Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) relief and lifestyle changes. This comes with challenges relating to succession, death and divorce, as well as Brexit and tax reform.” 

An increasingly common dispute relating to land and property are proprietary estoppel claims. “An estoppel claim could arise where, for example, a father promises to give his son the family farm, and the son in reliance on that promise then works on the farm based on this agreement to his detriment,” explains Duncan. “If the father fails to give the farm to his son, an estoppel claim could be made by the son against his estate.” 

Trust disputes  

While trusts are perhaps less talked about, disputes over trust assets (including money, investments and property) are still fairly common, especially when there is a large sum of money involved or existing family conflict. “Trust disputes can arise for a variety of reasons and can have a detrimental effect on the trust and its beneficiaries,” says Duncan. 

“Common scenarios include disputes over the value of the assets, unclear or incorrect trust documents, disputes between beneficiaries or claims against trustees because of negligent or fraudulent activity. We help resolve these disputes for both beneficiaries and trustees.” 

How can Charles Russell Speechlys help? 

Duncan Elson

Duncan has more than 30 years of practice covering a range of litigation, mediation and alternative dispute resolutions - Credit: Charles Russell Speechlys

The dispute team at Charles Russell Speechlys works with private individuals, family businesses and trustees to achieve the best possible resolution in a sensitive and efficient manner.

“Our team of private wealth dispute lawyers will always try to avoid increasing the tension in legal disputes as court processes can cost families a lot of money. We give firm advice so families understand the consequences of following particular courses of action and will seek to resolve disputes by negotiation or mediation in preference to expensive litigation if that can be avoided,” says Duncan. 

Duncan has more than 30 years of practice covering a range of litigation, mediation and alternative dispute resolutions. He is listed as a leading individual in Chambers, Legal 500 and Citywealth.

For more information, contact Duncan on 01483 252579 or visit charlesrussellspeechlys.com.