The number of inheritance disputes in England and Wales is rising, with as many as 10,000 people disputing wills every year. These disputes are often emotionally straining and can become very expensive. In this guide, we will explain how to handle inheritance disputes and – more importantly – how they can be avoided in the first place.

How to avoid inheritance disputes

When it comes to inheritance disputes, prevention really is better than cure. The last thing any of us want after we die is for our loved ones to be drawn into a costly and emotionally straining dispute over our assets. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of this happening.

Seek expert legal advice

The best way to avoid an inheritance dispute is to seek expert legal advice. At Scott Bailey, our specialist wills, trusts and probate solicitors work with clients to understand their wishes and create an estate plan that ensures their assets reach the intended beneficiaries as tax efficiently as possible.

You may be surprised to learn that many aspects of estate planning are unregulated. That means businesses can offer a range of estate planning services, including will writing, without formal training, qualifications or professional indemnity insurance. Using a solicitor is the only way to ensure a regulated, insured, and professionally trained expert has created your estate plan. For more information on the risks of using unregulated businesses, read our article: Do you need a solicitor to make a will?

Make a will and keep it up to date

Making a will – and keeping it up to date as circumstances change – is the best way to ensure that your assets pass to your family, friends and/or chosen charities exactly as you wish.

Your will must be legally valid to avoid inheritance disputes. You may be tempted to write your own will or use a free online or unregulated will-writing service, but this increases the chance of issues arising further down the line. Writing wills can be complex. Without the expertise of a specialist solicitor, it is easy to make mistakes that could leave your will open to challenges or render it invalid.

It is also essential that your will is stored safely and that your executors know where to find it.

Consider using trusts

Trusts, created during your lifetime or by your will, can be a very effective way to ensure your wishes are respected. When creating your estate plan, a specialist solicitor will be able to explain what trusts are suitable for you and how you can use them, as well as setting them up for you if you decide to proceed.

Discuss your wishes with your loved ones

Communicating your wishes to your loved ones in advance lets them know what to expect. It also allows them to raise any questions or concerns, which you can decide how to deal with. Making your wishes clear in advance and explaining your reasoning can help your beneficiaries understand your decisions and avoid inheritance disputes in the future.

Scott Bailey's Head of Litigation, Azmi Quraishe, explaining how to handle inheritance disputes

How to handle inheritance disputes

Nobody wants to end up in an inheritance dispute, but unfortunately, it does happen. Disputes often arise when beneficiaries contest the validity of a will or dispute the proposed distribution of assets but can come in various forms, for example:

  • Capacity: disputes related to the mental capacity of the deceased when creating the will.
  • Creditor claims against an estate: challenges regarding debts owed by the deceased.
  • Fraud and forgery: allegations of fraudulent wills or forged signatures.
  • Inheritance: disputes over the rightful inheritance of specific assets.
  • Mutual wills: disagreements involving wills made by multiple parties.
  • Opposing a grant: challenging the issuance of a grant of probate.
  • Presumed death: cases where the deceased’s death is presumed but not confirmed.
  • Proprietary estoppel: claims based on promises or assurances made by the deceased.
  • Revocation of a will or grant: disputes regarding the revocation of a will or grant of probate.
  • Solicitor/advisor claims: allegations of professional negligence.
  • Trust disputes: conflicts related to trusts established by the deceased.
  • Undue influence: suspicions of coercion or manipulation in creating the will.
  • Want of due execution: Disputes about the proper execution of the will.

Here are some of the ways you can settle an inheritance dispute:

Negotiation

Try to negotiate directly with the other beneficiaries or family members involved. Open communication and compromise can lead to mutually acceptable solutions. Consider seeking legal advice during negotiations.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to a range of non-court-based processes used to settle disputes, including mediation and arbitration. ADR is often an effective way to resolve inheritance disputes and tends to be quicker and less expensive than going to court.

Mediation

Mediation is a type of ADR. During mediation, an impartial mediator will work with the parties involved in a dispute to try and reach a consensus within the shadow of the law. Mediation is a common way to settle inheritance disputes and tends to be quicker and less expensive than going to court.

This process allows the parties involved to discuss the dispute ‘without prejudice’, meaning anything said cannot be used as evidence in court. The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion and provide legal information to help reach a resolution – they do not make a judgment. The goal is to find common ground and reach an agreement without going to court. Mediation can be less adversarial and more cost-effective than litigation. Each party can have their own solicitor to provide them with legal advice throughout the process.

Contest the will

If you believe the will is invalid due to undue influence, lack of capacity, or fraud, you can contest it in court. Keep in mind that contesting a will can be emotionally draining and costly, so weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Family settlement agreement

Sometimes, family members can reach an informal agreement outside of court. This agreement outlines how assets will be distributed and can be legally binding if properly executed.

Document everything

Maintain detailed records of all communications, decisions, and actions related to the dispute. This documentation can be crucial if the matter ends up in court.

Court

If negotiations fail or ADR is unsuitable or unsuccessful in your case, you may have to take your dispute to court.

Before starting legal proceedings, you should consult a litigator. At Scott Bailey, our highly experienced litigation team provides clients with clear, reliable advice on the merits and pitfalls of their claim or defence and prospects of success. Getting legal advice you trust at this stage is invaluable as it can help you avoid costly legal fees on a case you are unlikely to win.

If you decide to proceed following your consultation, you need to document everything and start preparing for court by gathering evidence to support your position, including relevant documents or witness statements. Our team at Scott Bailey will be able to assist you with this, ensuring you build your case effectively. Once legal proceedings begin, guidance and advice will be given as to the process, tactics and how to defend your interests through the courts.


Whether you are involved in an inheritance dispute or are trying to avoid one arising over your estate, our award-winning team is here to help. Our excellent Wills, Trusts and Probate team can help you ensure you have a watertight estate plan in place, avoiding challenges in the future. If you have found yourself in a dispute, our specialist litigators can assist you with your claim or defence, giving you the best chance of success. Contact Scott Bailey today to get started.