In general terms, the law states that everyone is free to leave their estate to whomsoever they please, so long as they have mental capacity to make a will and are free from undue influence at the time of signing it.
However, there are exceptions to this principle, and there are also many occasions where claims are made on estates by those who are not happy with the content of the will.
Claims of this type have increased massively over recent years; ‘The Independent’ recently reported the number of cases in the High Court has increased by 700 per cent since 2008.
The total number of disputes across England and Wales is likely to have increased even more than this, as many are settled prior to reaching court.
Claims can arise for different reasons but generally fall under one or more of the following headings:
• Lack of testamentary capacity.
• Lack of knowledge and approval.
• Undue influence.
• Mutual wills.
• Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Whilst it is impossible to prevent a claim being made against an estate, appropriate action and a carefully drafted will can help avoid such claims being successful, especially if the person drafting the will is expert in assessing mental capacity.