Where there is a Will there is a war - Disputes involving Wills continue to surface

Advice on wills for farmers and business owners

Advice on wills for farmers and business owners - Credit: Archant

Losing a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. It can be made harder if there is a dispute or uncertainty over the validity of a Will.

The validity of a Will can be challenged for many reasons:

• If it is believed the person who made the Will has been unduly influenced by another

• There is a lack of sound mind and memory for the person to be able to make or alter a valid Will

• The Will has not been correctly signed by the person and their witnesses

• There is a belief that the Will has been forged

Even if the Will is valid a claim can be brought against the estate under The Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependents Act) 1975 if the person making it believes that reasonable financial provision was not made for them. Various individuals including family members can bring such claims.

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The latest in a growing list of high profile contested Will cases involves a farmer’s son who is suing his family for a share of his late father’s £3million farming estate.

Sam James, who worked on his father’s farm for 35 years, alleges that his father promised him on several occasions during his lifetime that he would inherit the farm in recognition of the time, energy and commitment he had made over the years to the farm and the family business.

When Mr James’ father, Allen passed away, it was a shock for him to discover that his father had left his whole estate to his wife and two daughters in a Will he made two years before he died, without leaving him a penny.

Mr James claims that his mother pressurised his father into making this Will. In an earlier Will, Mr James was set to receive the farm.

The dispute has arisen due to his father suffering from dementia when he created the new Will, which Mr James claims meant his father had a lack of sound mind and memory for it to be valid. Mr James also argues that he relied to his detriment on his father’s promises by committing his life to the Farm and family business and it would therefore be unjust for him not to receive a share in his father’s estate.

Mr James’ mother and sister deny his claims and argue that a large area of farmland was given as a gift to his sister 5 years before the late Mr James passed away. A further 2 years later, he transferred £800,000 cash and the remainder of the farm into his and his wife’s joint names. They argue this is proof that Allen James never intended to leave any part of his estate to his son.

If the new Will is put aside, the earlier Will properly executed by the late Mr James will come into effect. The lifetime gifts made before the new Will was put in place could also be challenged if the late Mr James is found to have lacked the necessary capacity to have made them.

Judgement on the dispute is awaited, but not in doubt is the significant financial and emotional cost it must have put on the James family, the latter of which cannot be quantified.

This state of affairs emphasises the importance of having a professionally drawn Will, upon which the person making it has been advised and seen alone without any outside influence and at a time when they fully understand and comprehend the contents and implications of their Will.

Recent cases go to show that where Wills have been drawn up by a qualified legal professional, there is less chance of a dispute, or if they do proceed to court, the Will remains upheld. This is because the Courts tend to give greater credence to a Will which has been professionally prepared.

Flint Bishop specialises in advising and drawing up Wills for farmers and business owners as part of their succession planning strategies.

For further information on how Flint Bishop can help you, please visit the Flint Bishop website or call us on: 01332 340 211.