Inheritance disputes from beyond the grave

How do you safeguard your assets from claims beyond the grave?

The decision to exhume Salvador Dalí’s remains this year marked a new chapter in the lengths individuals will go to in establishing an inheritance claim. The exhumation was to determine whether Pilar Abel was his daughter and could therefore make a claim to be his legal heir. A DNA test on the Spanish surrealist’s remains disproved the claim.

We are seeing more and more inheritance claims go to lengths further than ever before. The Salvador Dalí exhumation marks a 10-year struggle to establish a claim. If Abel had managed to prove she was the artist’s daughter she would have been entitled to 25% of his estimated $1bn Estate.

Inheritance claims in the UK

In the UK, inheritance claims are increasing in frequency and complexity. According to the Royal Courts of Justice, claims issued under the Inheritance Act 1975 rose almost 40% to 158 between January and December 2016.

The increasing complexity of modern family structures means there is often a larger pool of potential claimants for estates, and a growing risk that some will feel left out or hard done by and bring claims. At the same time, intestacy laws often fail to reflect modern living arrangements, such as cohabiting unmarried partners or civil partnerships.

There have been developments in English case law concerning inheritance claims. In July, the judge in the Nahajec case allowed an estranged daughter to receive £30,000 from her father’s £240,000 Estate, in the first case heard since the Supreme Court decision in Ilott v The Blue Cross in March this year. Ilott made it clear that even if an adult child were estranged from a parent, a claim is likely to succeed if the child is in clear financial need.

It is important to have safeguards in place to ensure assets are protected and to minimise family feuds and ambiguity. Adding a “letter of intent” with your Will to explain the reasons why you have decided to bequeath your Estate in the way you have and, where appropriate, why certain individuals have been excluded from benefiting. While this is not legally binding, it will be taken into account should there be claims made on the Estate.

Lines of attack

One possible line of attack against your Estate might include claims against the validity of your Will by family members who stand to inherit if your Will is declared invalid. Claimants could say a person were of insufficient mental capacity when they made their Will and did not understand the extent of their Estate, or that they were coerced into making their Will.

These types of claims are often heavily reliant on statements from witnesses who testify, after your death, that what they might have heard you say, or how you behaved in their presence at around the time you made your Will, casts doubt on the validity of your Will.

How, then, do you safeguard your assets from claims beyond the grave?

Planning is absolutely essential and there are options to ensure your assets go to chosen beneficiaries.

For advice on how safeguard your assets, get in touch today!

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