It is not uncommon to be asked whether it is possible to leave unequal amounts to children in a Will. But with disputes over what is often seen as unfair inheritances on the rise it pays to take advice first, says Rachel Waller.
There is a basic principle in English law called testamentary freedom, meaning that an individual is free to leave their estate on death to whoever they wish. It is, therefore, possible to leave unequal amounts to children in a Will or to leave them out entirely. However, it is rarely that straightforward.
The changing nature of families, with children from multiple marriages and the marked increase in property values over the past 30 years, has seen an increase in disputes over inheritances. Perceived unfairness and unequal distribution of that inheritance are often at the heart.
Legislation has existed since the 1970s (the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975) that makes it possible for a limited group of people, including a spouse, children and cohabiting partners to bring a claim against an estate in certain circumstances. Spouses can claim if the will does not make reasonable financial provision for them, while other groups will, broadly speaking, need to be able to demonstrate they had been maintained by the deceased and have been left struggling.
The grounds may be obvious for school-aged children, but adult children that continue to be supported by their parents may also have a valid claim against the estate.
Inheritance disputes can be bitter, adding further distress to what is already a difficult time, and can drive families apart.
However, there are often very good reasons to leave unequal amounts to children in a Will. A child who, for example, chooses a career as a teacher or nurse is unlikely to earn the same as a property developer or a City banker, and a Will may want to reflect that.
We would recommend discussing and explaining your wishes with family members in the first instance and certainly before a Will is created. It will help identify any potential issues that may arise and how they might be addressed. A letter of wishes can then be included alongside a Will.
A Will can be a deceptively simple document to create yet poorly drafted can leave it open to interpretation or dispute. It pays to take advice and have a Will prepared by an experienced lawyer who can help spot potential sticking points whilst they can still be avoided.
If you consider that you have not been reasonably provided for by a will, you may have a valid claim under the Inheritance Act. Any claim needs to be issued within six months of the grant of probate, so it is important that you obtain qualified legal advice as soon as possible.
Contact our Contentious Probate and Trusts Team
Rachel Waller is a Partner and head of Bishop and Sewell’s Contentious Probate and Trusts team. Should you require any further advice or assistance, please contact her on 020 7091 2706 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as at 30 November 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.