A recent survey has demonstrated just how damaging disputes over the estates of loved ones can be to their families and those closest to them.
Around 80% of those questioned (who were all lawyers specialising in Will and estate disputes) confirmed that, during disputes, some or most of their clients have demonstrated symptoms of mental health issues including anxiety and depression. In addition, 90% of respondents felt that their clients struggled to ask for help.
When asked what the cause of the health issues were, respondents suggested emotional strain, fighting with family members and not being able to focus on grieving their loss. In addition, it was suggested that a lack of understanding of the legal procedure was a cause. Another factor reported is personal financial strain.
In terms of timescales, 43% said the mental health issues arose in the first three months of the dispute while others reported that these had not materialised until some months or even years after their case started.
The case of cohabitees
One particular cause highlighted was the uncertainty surrounding the position of cohabitees. Currently in Scotland cohabitees have no automatic right to a share in their partner's estate regardless of the length of their relationship or any other factors such as whether the couple share children.
In intestate estates only (where there is no Will) a cohabitee can make a claim for provision from the estate of their deceased partner. The surviving partner must make their claim within six months of the date of death and there is no guarantee as to how much they will receive.
Understandably this can cause significant upset and uncertainty and can cause relationships to deteriorate. Thankfully the position of cohabitees is currently under review with some changes to the law already having been agreed – the time limit for the claim is being increased from 6 to 12 months, for example.
What steps can be taken to prevent disputes over estates?
It is essential that the opportunity for disputes is minimised by individuals having up-to-date Wills prepared which deal with all eventualities, as far as possible. Wills should be carefully drafted and include full consideration of family dynamics. The capacity of the individual writing their Will should be beyond doubt and they should be aware of possible claims on their estate, such as legal rights, so that they can draft their Will accordingly.
Individuals should not be afraid to consider making their family aware of their wishes during their life, if appropriate, to avoid any unwelcome surprises. A well written Will should help to avoid any uncertainty and further upset at an already challenging time.
Get in touch
Harper Macleod's Private client team can assist you with your Will and estate planning. Harper Macleod's team also have significant experience in dealing with estate disputes.