How to Deal with a Will DisputePosted: 11th August 2016

We all remember Lynda Bellingham for the cheery housewife she played in the Bisto ads, but more recently, and sadly, her name has been in the news because of the dispute which has developed after her death over her estate. She left everything to her husband, Michael Pattemore, but her sons, Robbie and Michael Peluso, felt that they should have been provided for.

Solicitors who deal with disputed estates see situations like this very often. You can see it from both sides: it makes a lot of sense to leave everything to your partner or spouse whom you trust absolutely, giving them the discretion to help family members as and when help is needed. It might not cross your mind that your spouse’s ideas of the right level of help might not be the same as yours. But anyone who saw “Sense and Sensibility” on TV will remember how the three Dashwood girls are left penniless because the whole estate was left to their step-brother, who was trusted to “assist” them. The step-brother’s first idea is to give the girls £3000, but he allows himself to be bargained down by his grasping wife, and very quickly persuades himself that all “assist” meant was a bit of help moving furniture, and maybe the odd present of game in season.

How can these problems be prevented? First and foremost, if you are the person making the Will, is to talk to family members about what is going to happen after your death. This isn’t an easy conversation to have at any time, let alone in times of illness. It’s much better, though, to have the security of knowing that everyone understands what to expect and there are no unpleasant surprises in store. If you can’t face the conversation, no one could blame you for that, but maybe the next step is to talk to your solicitor about preparing an explanatory letter to go with your Will. There are many sensible reasons for treating family members differently from each other: for example, you might have given one of your children extra financial help during your lifetime at a time when they particularly needed it. If this is set out in a letter, it helps the rest of the family (who may not have known about the arrangements) to understand, and not to feel that anyone has been treated unfairly.

You may also choose to omit someone from your Will for more upsetting reasons: because they are no longer part of your life, or there is a risk that they will squander the money. Family members with alcohol, drug or gambling problems fall into this category. Again, talk to your solicitor about how this should be tackled: there may be options which you hadn’t considered.

Making sure that your family understand the choices you have made in your Will doesn’t guarantee that there will be no arguments, but it helps avoid them. The last thing you want is for your nearest and dearest to be embroiled in a legal dispute when you are no longer there to set them straight.

If you need advice on a disputed will or inheritance, our disputes solicitor Ursula Collie will be happy to advise on the issue.