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Will Disputes:Bleak House Revisited?

View profile for Paul Hajek
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The fictional case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House told a story of a disputed Will and the cost ravages of the legal system.

The poor litigants endured years of delay fighting their claim to the Jarndyce estate through the Court of Chancery. The judge eventually some years later ruled that although judgment was in their favour, there were simply no funds, after payment of all the legal fees, remaining to distribute to them, and the case collapsed.

Well, perhaps not as extreme, two Law firms have published information showing an increase in disputed Wills and an increase in litigation.

One of the firms Wedlake Bell which has a strong reputation in the field of Will disputes found there were 228 Will disputes going through the Courts.

Another law firm Seddons reported that some 300 out of 3000 people questioned had known of a Will dispute in the last six months.

A recent High Court case involved a daughter who successfully challenged her mother’s Will. Her mother had gifted the family farm valued at £2 million to a charity the RSPCA.

The High Court ruled that it would be “unconscionable” for the daughter not to inherit the farm. The daughter had cared for her parents for more than 30 years. The judge held that her father had coerced her mother to go against her wishes to leave the farm to their daughter. It is understood that the Charity will appeal, so this one might run for a little while longer.

It might be said argued that the judges’ reasoning was somewhat illogical on the facts of a strict interpretation of the Will. Yet, Judges now seem to be more receptive to introducing equitable principles, in layman’s’ terms, what would be the fairest thing to do.

The Courts in trying to work out what would be fairest in all the circumstances are behaving in a similar way to the Divorce courts from the middle of the last century onwards.

If the starting point is now that family members should inherit unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, it must be a worrying time for the bodies that are most likely to lose out i.e. Charities.

The Supreme Court of course may take a different stance.

There is no such thing as an absolutely foolproof Will, as this stutus can only be gained with hindsight.

What is important is to take legal advice on any particular aspects of your Will, which could appear on the face of it to be illogical.

Courts will need as much evidence as possible to understand why a beneficiary is included (or excluded) from your Will.

Talk to your Solicitor who can advise you on the best course of action to take.