Challenging the will maker to avoid family conflict

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May 9, 2016

Jane Gray, head of the Stowe Family Law wills and trusts department, was featured in the Financial Times over the weekend answering readers’ questions on avoiding an inheritance row.

A reader wrote in to the newspaper in search of some legal guidance regarding his inheritance and the concerns that he had over his brother’s involvement. The man’s aunt has no children and is set to leave her home to her two nephews in return for the ongoing care they provide allowing her to remain in her house, rather than having to turn to a nursing home. However, the reader said he was worried that his brother and brother’s partner would want to live in the property as it is more desirable than their current “substandard accommodation”.

He asked:

“What should I do to make sure the house is sold, with the proceeds divided equally between me and my brother?”

Jane advised the reader to try and avoid the problem by speaking with the aunt as she would be able to make a will that “anticipates conflict” and help to avoid any issues.

She stressed that the reader should be careful about how he approaches the situation with his aunt to avoid accusations of manipulating the will or pressuring the aunt into changing the will. With the aunt receiving help from the reader on an informal basis, Jane explained that he may be open to claims of becoming too influential in his aunt’s decision making.

Jane advised that the aunt see a solicitor and make any amendments to the will on her own with legal advice. She should see the family lawyer on her own without any family members present to allow the solicitor to understand her wishes and anticipate what may go wrong. Meanwhile, Jane explained that the reader would have to hope that things went as planned to avoid a potential family feud.

To ensure that the aunt’s wishes are carried out in accordance with the will, Jane said that she should appoint a third-party individual who is not set to benefit from the will as an executor. This third-party individual holds a legal obligation to ensure that the will is carried out without one beneficiary being favoured over another. The executor would have full power over the estate to ensure that it is divided according to the aunt’s wishes which means that they could sell the house to pay for any costs incurred, such as care costs and inheritance tax.

She said:

“They will have absolute power over what is done with the home. If they fear your brother or his partner will take possession of the property, they can change the locks to the house on the day of your aunt’s passing.”

Jane made a final point of anticipating the future and not to rely too heavily on inheritance, especially a family home. Nursing homes and care costs can become expensive and houses can end up being swallowed up in care bills leaving the beneficiaries with less that they may have anticipated.

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