A feud over the unexpected contents of a loved one’s written will is not just a ratings-winning storyline confined to TV’s Coronation Street.
According to Yorkshire solicitors Milners, it is also a real-life scenario facing families and businesses that is being played out in ever-increasing numbers in the district.
Cases of contested probate – where there is a challenge over a dead person’s estate – increased by more than 40pc nationally in the Government’s latest annual figures.
Against a backdrop of a growing and ageing population, say Milners, this spike in claims is likely to grow higher.
But there is a number of steps that can be taken when finalising a will that can safeguard a person’s dying wishes – and prevent inheritance disputes and claims from beyond the grave.
In the TV soap, it is the contents of the will left by factory boss Aidan Connor character that is currently gripping millions of fans in front rooms up and down the country.
It has triggered a legal wrangle after his family made the shock discovery that he had left his empire not to them – but to his his business partner.
“There is emerging research pinpointing why the number of contested wills is on the rise – it’s not just a work of fiction that only happens in Coronation Street,” said Jessica Savage, who specialises in wills, trusts, probate and other private client law at Milners, which also has offices at Pontefract and Harrogate.
“This ranges from an increase in the so-called compensation culture, to the fact that the monetary value of a person’s estate is getting higher and higher.
“Add to this a much more complex family structure we see in modern times – and a mix of different partners, step-parents and step-children – a will needs to be watertight to protect your assets in the way you wish.”
“Under British law, you can leave your estate to whoever you wish – so it is both difficult and time-consuming for anyone to mount a successful challenge through the courts.
“In the main, parties who have been left out, or feel hard done-by, are limited to just a handful of legal routes for contesting a will.
“One is that they were financially dependent on that person, and this has either ceased or been significantly reduced on death.
“Other lines of attack include the argument that the person did not have the sufficient mental capacity to understand their will, or that they were coerced into agreeing its contents.”
The biggest triggerpoint for a family dispute often involves siblings, where one has benefited more than another.
“There is usually a very valid reason why a person chose to bequeath their estate in the way they did,” added Jessica. “So it is always helpful to include a short commentary explaining and evidencing the reasons.
“Similarly if a person is old or in ill-health, then it is a good idea to have a letter from a GP that confirms they had mental capacity to make an informed decision about the contents of their will.
“All these simple steps play a key role in removing any ambiguity – and avoid the type of feud and legal battle that is currently unfolding on our TV screens.”