Topic overview

Claiming an inheritance

Older couple sit together on a sofa chatting with a woman

An inheritance can never compensate for the death of a partner or family member. And, unfortunately, inheritance claims can cause problems, for example, if someone believes they aren't receiving their fair share of a person's estate.

Even more difficult and upsetting inheritance problems can arise if a person was financially dependent on the deceased or if the executors of a will are accused of not acting properly.

Inheritance claims as a beneficiary

Claiming an inheritance is usually straightforward if you are named in the will as a beneficiary. The executors take control of all the deceased's assets, pay off any debts and distribute the inheritances to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will.

As a beneficiary, you do not normally need to claim your inheritance or pay any inheritance tax - the executors should sort it all out.

You may, however, need to be patient. Administering an estate can be time-consuming and it often takes several months before a beneficiary receives an inheritance.

Claiming your family inheritance

Family inheritance becomes problematic if there is no will or if you feel the will was unfair.

If there is no will, family inheritance entitlements are governed by the rules of intestacy. Depending on the amounts involved, any spouse (or civil partner) is entitled to inherit at least part of the estate, with the remainder split among the nearest relatives.

With or without a will, family inheritances may seem unfair. Particular problems can arise if a couple were living together (without actually being married or in a civil partnership), if there were previous relationships or stepchildren or if a will unexpectedly favours one child over another.

Spouses, civil partners, former spouses or civil partners, cohabiting partners, children and any financial dependents may be able to make a claim for reasonable financial provision - even if the will (or the rules of intestacy) specifies a smaller inheritance or no inheritance at all.

Inheritance claim disputes

Inheritance disputes can occur in other situations. For example, a will can be invalid if it was drawn up under undue pressure or if the testator subsequently married.

Individual bequests in the will may be invalid. For example, if the bequest is unclear or if an inheritance has been left to one of the witnesses. Disputes can also occur if executors act improperly, either by mistake (eg misinterpreting the will) or deliberately.

Inheritance claim disputes, like other legal disputes, can be complex, time-consuming and costly. Whether you are a beneficiary or not, if you are not getting the inheritance to which you believe you are entitled you should take legal advice.

Reviewed by Ruth Heap, partner, Hillyer McKeown solicitors

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