We are noticing a marked increase in the number of disputes about inheritances. There is no doubt that the death of a property-owning family member can bring out the worst in people.
This is a field in which I specialise, and it is a growing area. I think that this is largely due to a generation of increasing property ownership. Two generations ago, far fewer people owned property to pass down to their children on their death – i.e. there were fewer estates which were worth fighting over. And, of course, society was less litigious. But although the wealth of the average family has increased enormously over, say, the last 60 years, the proportion of the population who have not made a Will remains broadly the same, at two-thirds. A well-drafted Will is one very significant way of reducing disputes after death, although the existence of a Will by no means settles all disputes, since that of itself can bring allegations of forgery, fraud, undue pressure and dementia. The safest solution is to see a solicitor who specialises in Wills, because the solicitor’s file often contains vital information which helps to settle disputes (quite apart from the Will then being drafted with the clarity necessary to avoid any confusion).
One side-effect of these disputes can be the destruction of family relationships. I have recently dealt with three brother-sister disputes, and others include fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters and step-brothers and sisters. Re-marriage requires considerable skill in the drafting of a pair of Wills because a certain amount of antagonism between the offspring of the two first marriages is more than likely, even before the death of a parent. I rather suspect that all of these disputes result in the complete removal of family members from Christmas card lists! – i.e. relationships will never be restored.