Millions of Britons would dispute an inheritance if unhappy with result, says poll

Family finances are being stymied by distrust

Kate Hughes
Money Editor
Thursday 21 February 2019 10:29 GMT
Many assume if they don't write a will, their estate goes automatically to their dearest
Many assume if they don't write a will, their estate goes automatically to their dearest (Getty/iStock)

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Louise Thomas

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Millions of Britons would be prepared to contest a loved one’s will if they were unhappy with how the assets were divided, a poll has found.

This is despite the fact that almost half of the population doesn’t trust their family to manage their affairs for them.

Around half the UK fails to write a will at all, often assuming their assets will go to a spouse, partner or children automatically.

Problems often arise when it comes to blended families, multiple marriages and half-siblings, as well as couples who live together without a formal partnership.

Others don’t update wills, which can mean a main benefactor is already dead themselves.

However, even when someone’s wishes are clear and current, more than 12.6 million Britons would go to court to challenge them if they felt the division of assets was inappropriate, according to Direct Line Life Insurance.

Most family law professionals say the most common reason for contesting a will in the UK is on the grounds of “undue influence”, where the deceased was forced to sign a will or unreasonable pressure was placed upon them.

However, according to legal experts, contesting wills on the grounds of “undue influence” are the least successful petitions, as the burden of proof is high, and it falls on the person challenging the will to prove it.

Others push for “testamentary capacity”, where the mental and legal ability of a person to make or alter their will is challenged. They can also make “rectification and construction” claims, if a clerical error was made in the drafting of the will or the person drafting it didn’t reflect the person’s wishes.

In 2017, there were more than 8,100 instances of applications to stop wills being acted upon and the proceeds released – known as a grant of probate – up 6 per cent in 12 months.

At a cost of £20 each, before any other costs including hefty legal fees are taken into account, Brits are spending £160,000 a year simply to tell the courts they think there’s a problem. This is called “entering a caveat” and usually happens when they claim to have concerns over the legality of the will, who applied for the grant of probate and whether the deceased was of sound mind.

“While people are increasingly contesting wills, everyone has the right to choose how they’d like to distribute their assets, even if it seems unusual or excludes even the closest family members,” says Jane Morgan, business manager at Direct Line life insurance. “People can be surprised and hurt by the contents of a will, so people may wish to discuss with beneficiaries and those that might think they would inherit, how they plan to distribute their assets.”

The problem is that issues of trust and agreement when it comes to money regularly start while we’re all still very much alive.

Once recent study suggests that barely half of adults have a family member they would fully trust to manage their finances for them if they lost the capacity to do it themselves.

More than a third of us can identify a specific loved one – often a sibling or child – we really wouldn’t trust to take care of our affairs according to Co-op Legal Services, often because we don’t think they’re good with their own money or fear they would borrow money and not return it.

And yet almost 80 per cent of Britain’s over-45s don’t have a lasting power of attorney (LPA) in place – the legal document that identifies those they would prefer to manage their personal welfare and financial affairs.

They are split fairly evenly between those who haven’t quite got round to it and those who aren’t interested in having one.

More than 41 million Britons mistakenly believe that without an LPA in place, their loved ones would automatically be allowed to make decisions about their medical treatment on their behalf if they were to be incapacitated.

Even when we get over the hurdle of trust within our own circle of family and friends, there’s the small matter of paying for documents like these.

The average cost of establishing a lasting power of attorney (LPA) through a family law professional is £320 plus VAT. But while the bill can come in at less than £100 all in, some law firms charge as much as £2,500 plus VAT as standard to draw up an LPA.

The impartial and independent Money Advice Service provides information on creating wills and deciding who should manage your affairs if you can’t.

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