What Are Inheritance Disputes and How Can You Solve Them?

Inheritance disputes are on the rise, but why do they occur, and how can a family rectify these issues? What’s more, what are the costs involved? Discover more, here…

When a family member passes away, they will usually leave a will to dish out their estate to their loved ones. That said, it’s not always as simple as this, and some family members can be left feeling a little hard-done-by. In these cases, inheritance disputes may emerge.

A dispute that arises after a family member’s will is issued, otherwise known as contentious probate, can be stressful. Not only do you all have to deal with the death of your family member, but you also have to deal with the dispute proceedings too.

The question is, why would anyone choose to put their family through this? There are many answers to this question, and we’ll be taking you through them later in the article. We’ll also be discussing how you and your family can overcome these struggles, but first, what is an inheritance dispute?

What Are Inheritance Disputes?

An inheritance dispute occurs when a loved one of someone who dies is unhappy with their inheritance in the will. This can occur for a number of reasons, but ultimately, they will look to challenge the will with the help of a solicitor.

In 2019, there was an increase in contentious probate cases from 2018 by 47 percent, demonstrating how times are truly changing. With a greater number of blended families than ever before, making things a lot more complex, it’s no surprise people are feeling a little hard done by due to their inheritance.

Couple this with house prices becoming more and more expensive as the years go on, fighting for a cut of an estate is becoming more and more worth it.

Lawyers in the field have said that these numbers aren’t even the whole picture. In fact, most cases won’t even make it to the courts, so contentious probate really is a growing field of law.

The Main Causes of Inheritance Disputes

As we’ve seen, inheritance disputes are on the rise, but you’re probably wondering why anyone would argue against a will. After all, the dying wishes of someone are truly sacred. That said, there are many reasons for this, including:

Loopholes or Mistakes in the Will Document

To start with, a family member of the deceased may choose to contest if there is a mistake or loophole which needs addressing. Some cases where this might occur include:

  • A clear error or mistake in the will that must be rectified;
  • Invalid execution of the will, for example, it was not witnessed by enough people;
  • The will was written prior to marriage, and hasn’t stated that they wish the will to remain intact even after marriage;
  • A beneficiary is also deceased, and the inheritance must be redistributed;
  • The gift is no longer available, and proper provision must be made for the individual;
  • The gift is not specific enough;
  • A clause was not drafted properly by a solicitor or the will writer, and is too ambiguous or against their actual wishes;
  • Foreign jurisdictions may not recognise the will to deal with estate abroad, and the estate may fall into local heirship.

Unfairly Left Out in Will

Some people may feel they have been dealt an unfair hand when it comes to their share of the estate if they get any at all. In these cases, a Family Provision Application can be made to the court to challenge the will, and ensure they’re provided for properly.

Dying Intestate

Although most older individuals will die with a will in place, many younger individuals may not. In these cases, their estate will be dished out based on the ‘rules of intestacy’. These are a set of guidelines used to share a person’s estate after death, based solely on relation to the individual.

So, if a parent who dies without a will but has two children, the estate will be divided equally between the two. This means that, even if a child is estranged, they will receive a cut despite their lack of a relationship. Following this example further, the other child may dispute the will as they may feel they deserve the full cut.

Will Not Updated

The growing number in blended families, which include step-children, step-parents, and the like, also means a growing number of inheritance disputes. This is because the rules and regulations of wills are very black and white, taking on a more traditional stance. So, any grey areas where step-children are involved, for example, are trickier to navigate.

These sorts of disputes usually occur if the deceased didn’t update their will for their new living situation. For example, perhaps they’ve divorced their ex-spouse, but their will still details them instead of their new partner. This can leave many people unhappy with their share of the will.

Unhappy with the Executor

The executor is the person or people appointed to execute the requests in the will. They will ensure the money and assets are distributed to whoever the will describes.

The person who owns the will should ensure their executors are people they trust implicitly, and will often be a solicitor. However, if the beneficiaries feel as though this person is not doing their job properly, this can be contested.

In these cases, the executor may be removed by the court, and a new one will be appointed.


Some people may claim that the person who wrote their will before their death was unable to do so due to mental incapacity. This might be the case due to Alzheimer’s, mental illness, or any other mental troubles, and can make the will invalid.

Once this is brought to the court, they will do a number of tests on the will to check its validity, and the mental capacity of the person when they wrote it. They will also need to review the medical records of the individual to make an informed decision.

Undue Influence

After a relative dies and the will is carried out, the loved ones may be surprised to hear someone they don’t even know has been listed as a beneficiary. This can be a shock but is usually due to the kindly influence of someone throughout the deceased’s life.

In these cases, the person is well aware they’re making these changes to the will. They’re simply doing so because they feel this person has given more to them than their family ever did. Naturally, this can cause blood relatives to feel slighted, and they may challenge it.

Wrongful Acts

Undue influence can also occur on a more sinister scale, which is known as a wrongful act. For example, an elderly person in the care of nurses at a home or hospital may be convinced to give power of attorney to a nurse. Then, they may change the will to fit their agenda, against the conscious wishes of the patient.

This may cause the family members who were the original beneficiaries to challenge the will.

An Unwritten Promise

You see it all the time in movies; someone on their deathbed who makes a promise to someone without it ever being written down. These sorts of promises can throw the entire will up in the air, shedding doubt on the dying person’s true wishes. If the promised person feels these promises haven’t been met in the written will, this can lead to disputes.

Not Wanting Their Share

In some cases, a beneficiary may wish to forfeit some or all of their inheritance to someone else using a deed of variation. They might give this to another person, or to a charity or trust, but they can only do so with their share of the estate, and no one else’s.

How to Solve an Inheritance Dispute and How Much it Costs

In most cases, a dispute will require the aid of a solicitor to deal with it properly. That said, that’s not all it takes; it can take a lot more time, manpower, and money to come to a decision between everyone involved. So, to see how a dispute will be solved, and the costs you may incur along the way, read on…

1.    Hire a Solicitor

If you think you want to start a case for contentious probate, you’ll need to hire a solicitor. They will help you to deal with the dispute legally and properly, so getting this sorted, whatever side of the case you’re on, is paramount. The cost of the solicitor will really depend on how much of their time you take up, which will depend on the next steps.

2.    A Letter

Once a solicitor is enlisted, an inheritance dispute should start with an initial letter to detail the issue. If the recipient agrees the will is faulty at this stage, it can all be brushed aside and sorted easily.

Average cost: £500 to £1,500 plus VAT

3.    Mediation

If the issue goes further than this, mediation may be in order. This will involve hiring a mediator as an impartial voice to guide you through a meeting involving everyone and their lawyers. Both sides can meet and come to an agreement without the cost and stress of a lengthy legal battle.

Average cost: £7,500 to £10,000 plus VAT

4.    Going to Court

If the situation is a little more complicated, and people refuse to back down, getting the court involved may be necessary. This is only possible if the defendant is a beneficiary, a creditor, or a legal claimant of the estate property. After hearing each side of the argument, and assessing the evidence, the judge will decide on a course of action.

Average cost: £15,00 to £20,000 plus VAT

5.    Prevent it From Happening

Hindsight is a funny thing, but this article shows you exactly why hindsight now is so important. With this in mind, being sure to put preventative measures in place before a dispute occurs is the best course of action.

So, throughout your lifetime, ensure to communicate with one another, and keep everyone in the loop. What’s more, make sure to update your will whenever something new occurs, so it is clear as crystal. Hopefully, this way, you can avoid any of the above before it happens!

The Moral of the Story: Get Your Will Right!

When you or a family member dies, it’s hard enough as it is already without a family dispute arising over who gets what. So, putting in the preventative measures in place is your best port of call.

That said, life often gets in the way to get too bogged down over death. So, it’s no wonder inheritance disputes arise.

If they do, we hope this article has given you a better insight into the process of it all. Be sure to leave your stories and tips in the comments down below, and thank you for reading!


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