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Avoiding Family Feuds: How to Handle Wills with Care

By May 27, 2024 No Comments
family feuds

Families can be torn apart by wills. Poorly thought-out, poorly communicated, or absent wills can trigger major family rifts – particularly where property or land is involved, as is often the case with Irish families. Even seemingly fair wills can lead to deep divisions. However, there are steps you can take to help avoid the upset that your will might cause.

Damage Limitation

Consider discussing your will with your family before finalising it. A will is a private matter, and its contents are your business. However, with a large family, it might be wise to sit down with everyone – either together or individually – to understand their expectations. You may find that a person doesn’t want what you had planned to leave them. The problem is that discussing wills can sometimes cause rifts before the person even dies.

Avoid suggesting to people that you’re going to leave them something unless you’re certain and have already included it in your will. You may die before making a will, and if that happens, the person is unlikely to get what you promised them. Unfulfilled promises can be a major source of strife with inheritances. Many people have been promised inheritances of land, houses, or cash, only to find those assets not earmarked for them in a will. This can lead to disappointment and resentment.

Attaching conditions to an inheritance can also be a major source of family rows. For example, leaving the family home to someone on the condition that it can be used by the rest of the family as a holiday home is not advisable.

Another significant source of family disputes is treating one child differently from others in a will. “Parents may decide that one child gets less than others,” says Patrick Murphy, managing director of Retirement & Life Planning. “Perhaps the child was put through college while the others weren’t, and so the child who received the college education may not be left as much. If you’re going to do something differently for one of your children, be sure to explain why.”

An explanation should also be given if one child, relative, or individual is being left much more than others in the family.

Biggest Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes you can make regarding wills is not making one. You are said to be intestate if you die without making a will, and in such cases, it is ultimately the law that decides who inherits your wealth and property. Should you die intestate, and are survived by your spouse and children, the law dictates that two-thirds of your estate will go to your spouse, with the rest divided equally among your children. This may not be how you wish your estate to be divided.

Following family or local traditions may also be unwise. In rural areas, people often still follow the tradition of giving everything to the eldest son to carry on the family name, particularly if it’s a farm or land being passed on. However, the family name can still be lost if the eldest son decides to sell the land or farm.

Even if you make a will, failing to regularly review it can lead to problems or see important people in your life lose out on an inheritance. “People often make a will when they take out a mortgage but never review it afterwards,” says Derek Bell, chief operating officer with the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland. “However, people come in and out of your life after you make a will, and your circumstances are likely to change as you get older. So it’s important to review a will every five years.”

Children can often be overlooked in wills, especially in the event of the untimely death of one or both spouses. If you have children, it’s essential to include them in your will, regardless of which spouse outlives the other. This is particularly important if your children are young or if one of them has a medical condition or disability and requires care and financial support. Couples often plan to draw up a will where the surviving spouse inherits everything, assuming that the surviving spouse will look after the children. However, this may not always happen. Both parents could die untimely or very near the same time. “There will effectively be no will if both parents die at the same time and the will leaves everything to the surviving partner,” says Bell. Be mindful, too, that one spouse could remarry after the other passes away or that one or both spouses could remarry if the marriage breaks down. In such cases, the children of the first marriage could be at a disadvantage if they haven’t been provided for in a will.

Will Must-Knows

You cannot disinherit your spouse or civil partner. Should you make a will but leave your spouse out of it, they are entitled to a legal right share of your estate, which can be claimed after you die if they wish. In such cases, if you have no children, your spouse has an automatic right to claim half of your estate. If you have children, your spouse is entitled to a third of the estate, and your children are not necessarily entitled to the rest. You do not have to leave anything to your children in your will. However, if you do not, they may be able to challenge your will on the basis that you have not fulfilled your obligations towards them.

You can leave instructions in your will stating that money in your bank account be used to cover the cost of your funeral expenses when you die.

Hire a solicitor or get professional advice when drawing up your will; otherwise, you could make a will that is wholly or partly invalid. Should this arise, the rules of intestacy will apply to either the entire will or the invalid part, and your wishes on how your estate is divided are unlikely to be carried out. Tell a trusted relative or friend where your will is.

Wills are said to bring out the worst in human nature, so there is never any guarantee that yours will be received amicably, despite any efforts you take to achieve that. Still, it’s worth doing what you can to avoid conflict after you pass away.

Please contact our team if you need further assistance in this matter

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