What can you do about an unfair will?

Millions rely on an inheritance. If it never materialises, is there anything you can do?

unfair wills

The older generation has often amassed more assets than their younger counterparts could ever hope to build for themselves - through property price rises and generous workplace pensions. Meanwhile, many younger people are relying utterly on the generosity of older relatives to afford everything from a home of their own to a decent amount of income in retirement. It means that when older relatives choose to write someone out of their will, it can have a devastating impact.

See also: Spite is back: you can cut your family out of your will

See also: Survey reveals tribulations of administering loved one's will

The problem is that you don't have any automatic right to an inheritance. It's not compulsory to leave your fortune fairly, so those who have spent their life assuming that an inheritance will sort their financial worries, can have the rug pulled out from underneath them.

A study in America recently found that one in three wills don't divide money evenly between siblings, while a separate study by First4lawyers discovered that one in three people who had been affected by an unfair will had been deliberately left out - and received nothing. In 21% of cases a friend received more than family members, and 15% of people said a charity had received more than they had.

What can you do?

If you have been the victim of an unfair will, you can do something about it. The first step is to talk to the other beneficiaries. If all of you agree that you ought to be left something - and you can come to an amicable agreement about how much you ought to have - then you can visit a solicitor together and vary the will to write you back into it.

If the other beneficiaries disagree, then things get much more complicated - and expensive - but you may still be able to dispute the will in court. Around a third of those affected by an unfair will end up in court, and around 80% of them win.

Before you take this step, however, it's worth talking to a lawyer about the strength of your case. There are some issues that can count enormously in your favour. This includes times where there's no reason given for excluding you (particularly if you hadn't fallen out, and they haven't written a letter explaining why you have been disinherited); where there's an issue over whether the person writing the will knew what they were doing; or if the problem stems from the fact that the will is out of date.

If none of these apply, then you may still be able to make a claim on the basis that 'reasonable provision' hasn't been made for you. This will usually require you to be in some way dependent on them, and a Supreme Court judgement earlier this year demonstrated that where a case can be made that leaving you out of the will was deliberate, it may well outweigh any claim you have for reasonable provision.

It's worth bearing in mind that there have been plenty of examples of high profile cases where relatives have gone to court and lost. There are also times when a bitter dispute over a will has eroded every penny of value in the estate. Even if you are successful it will undoubtedly do irrevocable damage to the relationships of the family members concerned. So think carefully before you go down this path.

If you have been left out of a will, it's easy to feel driven by a sense of injustice and hurt feelings, but it's important to see this as impartially as possible, because if there's very little chance of success, then you could easily end up even worse off than when you started.

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