In December 2015 the Sunday Star Times reported on a dispute amongst the members of the Ropati family in respect of their mother’s estate. The article contains the following statements:
“Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of disputes over wills rose by nearly a third in just two years … In 2012 there were 252 contested wills, and last year the figure reached 325 … Claims against estates can be brought by widows, widowers, de-facto partners, children, step-children and grandchildren … A claimant has to prove that the deceased failed to discharge a moral duty to provide for him or her … In one extreme case, two sisters battling over their mother’s $80,000 estate took their fight to the Supreme Court … The dispute between Judith Guerin and Marta Hayes lasted more than five years.”
Similarly, statistics from the UK show an increase in estate claims over recent years. What is the reason for this?
Unfortunately many people assume that if they make a claim it will be resolved quickly and cheaply in their favour. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is true: the claim is expensive to pursue, the court system is slow and frequently there are valid competing arguments which mean that the outcome is far from certain.
Litigation usually results in the parties being permanently alienated. Few people realise how stressful and unpleasant litigation can be.
Will-makers frequently underestimate the consequences of decisions they make and also misjudge the potential for serious arguments to arise. Many decisions are poorly considered and often made without the benefit of full advice.
Avoiding estate disasters
Inheritance planning requires careful thought and good advice. Attempts to ‘punish’ or ‘reward’ family members seldom have the desired effect, and create disharmony and a family breakdown. Careful thought and good advice can usually prevent this.
In the UK between 2010–2014, an average of 633 will/trust and probate cases were heard each year at the Chancery Court in London compared with an average of 485 per year in the previous five years.