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Property prices help fuel family inheritance court battles

View profile for Spencer Davis
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Rising property prices are helping to fuel increased numbers of inheritance disputes reaching the courts, with second marriages another major contributory factor.

Such challenges are no longer the preserve of the wealthy, although they continue to feature highly. Recent cases hitting the headlines have included the family fall-out following the death of the billionaire owner of Sotheby’s, Alfred Tauber, through to a court case over a £600,000 estate destined for good causes, where the will was unclear. 

The trend towards higher numbers of inheritance disputes has been attributed to a number of factors. 

As in the case of the billionaire Alfred Tauber, who died earlier this year, the rise in divorce and second marriages is behind a growing number of children and step-children, and first and second spouses, warring over estates. For the second Mrs Tauber, a marriage lasting over 30 years was not enough to protect her from a lock-out of her apartment in London’s Mayfair, as the children of the property tycoon’s first marriage took action to remove valuable artworks from the flat. 

And the rise in property prices has meant there is often more at stake, and families are more inclined to take the costly step of litigation and get the matters before the courts, if they feel they have been unfairly treated. 

Earlier this year, estranged daughter Heather Ilott won a share of her late mother’s estate in a landmark ruling. Her mother expressly excluded her daughter, choosing to leave her £500,000 estate to animal charities. An eight-year court battle saw the daughter, who had run away from home to get married at 17, finally win a one-third share of the estate, on the grounds that her mother had not made adequate provision for her, as her circumstances were such that she would be in a position of poverty, reliant upon state benefits. 

The ruling focused on the lack of connection between the late Mrs Jackson and the animal charities named, as she had not been a regular supporter or shown interest in such causes during her lifetime. Said wills and trusts expert Lisa Carter, Partner at Gepp & Sons solicitors : “The implications of the ruling are that it may prove harder for parents to disinherit children in future, unless they have strong grounds for doing so, and strong links to the alternative beneficiaries. It has long been the case that a spouse or financially-supported child could challenge the will if they were excluded, but this ruling, and the sum awarded to the daughter, suggests a shift in approach by the courts.”

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. If you require assistance with any inheritance tax issues please contact Lisa Carter on 01245 228127 or carterl@gepp.co.uk