More families are being riven by disputes over wills, with some waiting more than seven years to get their hands on their inheritance.
The legal process to dissolve a will is usually a quick one, but Ministry of Justice figures show that in the last two years six wills were finally resolved in the High Court after between five and seven years of argument.
Lawyer Paul Logan, from ARL Lawyers, said the cases were unusual as probate was usually granted within two months, but he had seen a growing number of families arguing over wills.
”We’ve got a number of blended families these days so it’s harder for people to make wills that benefit their new spouse or partner and their children,” he said.
Probate is a court certificate that confirms a will has been proved and registered.
A long delay in granting probate was likely the result of action taken by a mourning relative, who may believe the will was penned under duress or was outdated.
After probate was issued, the assets were usually dispersed, but a family feud could see the case then go to the Family Court.
”Most cases settle, they don’t actually get to court because they are not worth it, but sometimes people won’t settle and so you end up in court. That’s the exception rather than the rule,” he said.
The highest number of cases in the last five years was in 2009, with 309. Last year, 214 were heard in the Family Court. Most cases were resolved within five years.
Henry Stokes, from wills and estate services provider Public Trust, said he mostly saw disputes among children after a parent died.
”Sometimes what can happen is that mum or dad make a will during the time a relationship is strained and they either leave that child out or they leave that child a smaller amount than their other children.
”Other times you see that parents believe that their children are not very good at handling money, so they don’t leave a full share of the estate.”
Stokes said families occasionally agreed to work things out, but in other cases they couldn’t reach an agreement.
”One of the hugely difficult things about disputes over estates is that there is so much emotion involved in all of it. That of course makes things extremely difficult.
”Often, it’s not just about the assets of the estate or the money that is in the estate, it’s about how they feel that they have been treated,” he said.
”Sometimes family recover from that, sometimes they don’t.”
Battle of wills delay inheritances
June 26, 2012