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Are ‘silver divorces’ leading to an increase in Will disputes?

22.06.2016

When an application for divorce is made, many people see it as an opportunity to make a fresh start – and the over 60s are no exception.

We’ve already remarked on the rise of these ‘silver splitters’ in our Citizen 2025 report. And of course, this pattern of divorce among the over 60s has implications for families beyond the immediate impact of separation.

Our contested probate solicitors have reported a rise in inheritance disputes where an older divorcee has found a new partner and subsequently passed away without updating their Will, or indeed without making one at all.

Predictably, this leads to disagreements between the person’s old family and their new one over the distribution of their estate – and there is often, understandably, little love lost between the two sides.

Disputes of this nature are often the result of mistaken assumptions on the part of the deceased or their family. For example, you might assume that if you die without a Will, your money automatically goes to your children.

But in reality, the law states that, without a Will, the first £250,000 of the estate goes to your spouse before any children you might have receive a penny – even if you were about to file for divorce.

Similarly, if you made a Will which names your former partner as a beneficiary and don’t update it after separation, your children may not get what you or they expected.

A costly business

We have dealt with cases of this nature in the past – and where possible, we advocate settling the dispute via mediation, or at least outside of the courtroom. Contesting a Will all the way to the High Court is after all a costly business and can eat away at any financial benefit you might gain from the estate.

But given levels of home ownership and the savings culture among the older generation, these contested estates can be sizeable. This perhaps explains the 861 inheritance disputes which were settled by the High Court in 2013 – a sharp increase on 490 the year before.

In response to the figures reported in today’s press, Mark Scanlon, inheritance dispute solicitor, remarked:

“UK house prices have risen exponentially in the last decade, meaning that potential claimants often have more valuable estates to consider. This in itself may make it financially worthwhile for a disappointed individual to claim against an estate.

If you also consider our complex family structures and the number of people who fail to make or update their Will to reflect their changing relationships, it’s easy to see how problems can occur.

Whilst we can help you if you’re considering whether to contest a Will or seek an interest in an intestate estate, you should think carefully. The impact of a dispute can be huge, with the natural upset of losing a loved one being further compounded by a family feud.

In reality though, the best way to avoid disputes of this nature is to have a Will that is legally valid, up-to-date and reflective of your final wishes.”

Further information

To speak to one of our Will dispute solicitors in Bristol about contesting an estate, contact us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.

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