Sibling Rivalry in Inheritance Act claims
Helping Machins’ clients in contentious probate issues it is often the case that a dispute arose as a result of a will which favoured one sibling over another or completely cut one family member out.
This is a somewhat delicate and emotional issue and with English law following the basic principle that the Testator has freedom to leave his or her estate to whomever they please, people may very often decide to split their estate in unequal shares between the children despite knowing that an equal split will help maintain family harmony when they are gone.
There might be good reasons to split your estate in unequal shares amongst your children. These reasons should be obvious and something that all the children can understand. For example, you might leave the bulk of your money for the care of a child with special needs. This will assist your other children by relieving them of a financial burden too.
But other choices might be less obvious and this is where you need to be careful. One common reason for considering unequal shares is the financial positions of your children. One might be a lucrative businessman, the other a teacher who earns less. It could be tempting to leave the teacher more but one cannot see into the future and who knows if the businessman may lose his fortunes. Sometimes it could be the best thing to simply have the discussion with the successful child and see how they feel about it.
What about cases where parents have already helped one child financially much more than the others? Do you keep track of your gifts? These could be university fees for a grandchild for example or assistance to buy a house – do you want to think about reflecting this in your will and reducing that child's inheritance by the same amount?
It is tempting to leave a child more because they cared for you. One way around this risk is to pay the child for care while you're alive and split the remainder equally.
If you're not leaving equal shares, you should explain this to your children and why. If you can't bring yourself to talk about unequal shares, I would recommend leaving a compassionate letter with your will, explaining your decision and addressing the questions, your children may have.
Whatever you decide about inheritance, remember that family harmony is at stake. Wherever possible, equal shares do the trick.
Deborah Rupping specialises in Contentious Probate matters. If you have any questions about the content of this article she can be contacted on 01582 514385