Complaints and legal claims against the handling – or rather mishandling – of a dead person’s estate have more than tripled in the last year, according to figures recently released by the High Court.
But this is perhaps no surprise when considering that up to 60 per cent of adults in England and Wales have not made a will.
When a person dies without a valid will – known as dying ‘intestate’ – his or her assets are divided in accordance with a strict set of legal guidelines. But from October 1 new rules will apply to the way those estates are apportioned.
Ian Bond, of West Midlands law firm Higgs & Sons, commented: “In the absence of a valid will to say to whom the deceased intended their belongings to pass, assets are apportioned in accordance with the law and the change in the law alters the balance between the claims of spouses and children.
“The reforms enhance the rights of a surviving spouse or civil partner.”
While the reforms look to bring many aspects of the rules up-to-date, they have been criticised for not addressing all of the perceived injustices that can arise under intestacy. In particular, unmarried couples continue to have no claim to their late partner’s estate.
Ian said: “The reforms will not have any effect on the status of long-term partners, who will continue to have no automatic entitlement where there is no will, even if they have been living with the deceased for decades or they have parented children together.”
Because intestacy’s statutory rules cannot take into account complex family situations, Ian said the need to make a properly drawn up will was the only way to ensure your wishes after your death are followed.
“The new rules may help but still a large number of estates end up being argued over in the courts,” said Ian. “The fact is that in complex situations a will should be drawn up professionally and, if necessary, a professional executor appointed to administer the estate.”
Recent High Court data showing the trebling of court cases involving the mishandling of a deceased’s estate ranged from the misappropriation of assets by the executor to the fraudulent distribution of assets in favour of certain beneficiaries of the will above others.
Ian added: “Whilst simple and straightforward estates may seem easy to administer without the professional advice of a solicitor it is still easy for executors to make unwitting mistakes that may leave them personally liable.
“The risk of mismanagement or giving assets to the wrong person has increased now that the law has changed and where DIY executors rely on old and out of date information from libraries or public services.”
For details on making a will or on how the new rules apply to adminstering estates contact Ian Bond at Higgs & Sons.
Higgs & Sons is based in the heart of the Black Country at the Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill. The growing team now boasts 100 plus specialist lawyers available to support clients in a comprehensive range of business and private sectors.