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Probate disputes

We're seeing more and more arguments over estates like this one. With people living longer and specialist care being needed, it is becoming increasingly common for doubts to be raised over the mental capacity of the deceased before they died.

Take, for example, a situation where a couple have two sons, both of whom are now grown up, moved away and have a wife and children. After the wife dies, the husband is not capable of living on his own without some sort of external support, so the sons - in conjunction with the council and other support services - arrange for a carer to assist him. Over time the carer ends up spending at least 6 hours a day looking after the elderly man and that goes on for two years. Having been an open family both the husband and wife had always said that their estates would be divided equally between the sons. However when the father dies at 92, he leaves his estate divided into 3 parts: 60% for the carer and 20% each for the sons. The parents had lived in the family home for 40 years and it is now worth in the region of £1.5 million. Once inheritance tax has been paid, the sums both sons had thought they were getting are now far less than they had been lead to believe. From their point of view, they have been diligent sons; neither feel they could have uprooted their families to move to live with their father, partly because their wives' families lived even further away and partly because it would have greatly disrupted their children's educations during exams years. They did they best they could by organising regular care and visited every month or so. Would anyone blame them for thinking that the carer had taken advantage of the father to get such a large sum from the estate? However, from the father's point of view, he had lost his wife and both of his adult sons had moved away to have families. They had been supported through school and university and lived in households with two incomes. Neither had moved to closer to care for him and neither visited more than once a month. His carer on the other hand was from a less well off background, her parents had died when she was young and she'd grown up in foster care. She was caring, diligent and constantly went over and above what could be expected of her for the hours she was paid. Over the last few years of his life, the carer had been the father's main companion. Is it unreasonable for the father to decide he wants to reward the care he was given by leaving the majority of his estate to his carer? There have been a number of very similar examples to this. In one fairly recent case, the carer had been left the majority of the deceased's estate after only two months of knowing him (and the court ruled this was in accordance with the deceased's wishes). There are many variations: does your opinion change if the whole of the father's estate is left to the carer? If the carer is also a relative - a nephew or cousin? What if one of the sons was not comfortably off? Whatever the scenario, a court is not interested in whether the decision was 'fair'. What is considered fair is entirely subjective and it is for each person to decide what goes in their will. The circumstances in which a court might declare a properly executed will invalid are limited to when a person either does not know what they are doing when they sign the will or if someone is essentially controlling/manipulating them in a way which means that, although they know what the will says, it is not what they would freely choose to put in it. There are other ways for disappointed beneficiaries to claim against the estate, one of which is mentioned here and a specific case discussed here. Whatever the circumstances, our expert solicitors can help with contesting a will or making a claim.
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