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Disappointed relatives trying to follow the example of farmer’s daughter Christine Gill and challenge a family will in court should beware, says law firm DWF.
Trying to prove that a relative has been coerced into signing a will is not only extremely difficult but could also result in a punishing bill for costs, the firm warns.
Dr Gill, a university lecturer, succeeded in a three-year court battle to win back the £2m family farm which her parents had left to the RSPCA. The High Court in Leeds ruled that her mother was ‘coerced’ into signing the will by her father.
However John Lambe, a senior solicitor with DWF and a specialist in probate disputes, said: “Establishing undue influence is difficult and the more serious the allegation, the stronger the evidence required to prove it. Anyone going down this route must be able to prove that the deceased was the victim of coercion. This is more that simple persuasion - coercion could mean violence but it could also mean pressing something upon a sick person to the point that they may do anything for the sake of peace.
“Prior to this latest case the courts had already warned that undue influence is a serious allegation and should not be raised without proper evidence. Anyone who raises it without such evidence can expect to be penalised by being made to pay the costs of both sides.”
John Lambe says that there may be other grounds to make a claim without having to prove undue influence. Children and close family members may be entitled to reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. There may also be scope to challenge the execution or interpretation of the will.
Court figures show that disputes over wills and inheritance rose by 175 per cent between 2006 and 2007. John Lambe says: “The rise in the value of people’s estates, increased expectations on the part of relatives and increasingly complex family relationships, which mean that there is a greater risk of people falling out over wills, are all contributing to the rise in disputes.
“By far the best option is to prevent such disputes in the first place arising by making a will. Take advice from a professional who will be able to explain how the rules work, detail your wishes clearly and make it highly unlikely that your estate will be the source of a future family feud.”
Notes to editors:
DWF LLP is one of the fastest growing law firms in the UK. With over 970 people based in Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Preston, DWF provides a range of services grouped under the following practice areas:
Finance & Restructuring
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