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Avoiding Inheritance Disputes: How to Distribute your Assets Fairly

Avoid inheritance disputes when you write your Will with conflict avoidance in mind. Read on to learn everything you need to know about contested Wills- including why they occur and how best to avoid them.

Inheritance happy families

We all want to avoid inheritance disputes, and as a Will maker this anxiety can be greater than for most. In this blog post we’ll provide expert tips for conflict avoidance- from how to distribute your assets fairly and why planning ahead can reduce the burden of probate. Read on to learn from our very own legal experts, and safeguard your legacy today.

Will Disputes

When it comes to estate planning, making sure that your assets are distributed fairly is vital for peace of mind. Importantly however, it's also important for avoiding those infamous family inheritance disputes that you hear about, and always hope to avoid.

Whilst contested Wills are very rare in Australia, unfortunately, family disputes can still occur. Because when emotions run high and contentions even higher- inheritance disputes are all too common when it comes to the distribution of assets.

Whilst having a clear asset plan in place is the best strategy to avoid these altogether, there are other things you can do to prevent family disputes ahead of time. But before we dive in, here's some context to why and where Wills can get contested in Australia.

Why Wills cause family disputes:

Wills can catch people at their worst time, and worst selves. Amid the high emotions of grief, people can act differently and long separated family members can struggle to suddenly come together under the worst circumstances.

With this in mind, people close to the deceased can feel like their asset distribution is unfair or invalid; due to concerns around capacity or undue influence. Especially when some family members receive a greater share of the deceased’s estate, people left behind can be quick to jump to conflict.

Reasons why Wills get contested:

More often than not, conflicts can be resolved before being escalated in the courts. Family members talk it out, lawyers help ease tensions and people accept the wishes of the deceased.

If relatives are concerned about validity, undue influence, or maintain their unfair share, then in some cases conflict can lead to a contested Will.

In some cases, especially if there are questions over the validity of the legal document, this can lead to changes in the original distribution of assets outlined in the Will.

How often do Wills get contested in Australia?

This can sound like a scary prospect if you're writing your Will. What’s the point in bothering with the admin if a disgruntled family member can override anyway?

Thankfully, it’s not all that common for things to reach this stage. With only around 3% of Wills in Australia being contested, a small number are then changed from the original outline.

More than altering asset distribution, conflicts which escalate to this stage can have irreversible damage on family ties and future relations. Whether it's protecting your intentions, or maintaining a happy family- writing a valid Will with conflict avoidance in mind is a valid effort for you.

How to avoid a Will being contested:

As much as it's unlikely to occur, there are several steps you can take to avoid a Will being contested or causing conflict in the first place. We’ve included a few tips below:

  1. Write a valid Will

Ensuring that your’e Will meets validity requirements ensures that the legal document will hold up in court, and against any family questions over your intent. This involves being signed in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the Will.

2. Keep your Will up to date

Additionally, it’s also important to keep the document up to date to reflect any changes in life or assets. Family conflict could arise if, for example, an old partner was still written in the Will but had been separated from the deceased at the time of death. Similarly, if recent asset purchases are not included in the deceased’s estate plan this leaves an open door for conflict over who gets what.

3. Communication

Talking to your family members about your asset decisions can help to prevent surprises and misunderstandings down the line. If a family knows your estate plan ahead of time, they are less likely to spark disputes at the time of death.

Why it's important to have end-of-life discussions with loved ones:

Along with many others, the death taboo is on its way out and open, honest and constructive conversations are on the in. Having end-of-life discussions with loved ones is incredibly important for all involved, and can provide valuable bonding opportunities whilst you're all still here.

At the end of the day, there's more to life (and Wills) than who gets what and how much is left behind. Having conversations with family members about your end of life wishes is important to ensure your wishes are carried out, and understood by those you love.

In talking openly about your estate plan you have the opportunity to communicate your reasons on everything from palliative care, funeral arrangements and asset distribution. This can help prevent misunderstandings and upset down the line, and help grant you peace of mind that your important wishes will be carried through.

How to have end of life discussions

End of life discussions can be difficult and emotional, for obvious reasons. With many still entrapped in the depths of the death taboo, it's important to approach the topic with sensitivity and empathy- considering the fact it’s a topic many family members might want to avoid.

Whether you're discussing your own end-of-life wishes or those of a loved one, having open and honest conversations can help ensure that everyone's wishes are respected.

Starting with a private and comfortable setting, at a well timed moment, can set you up for success before you even begin. Covering emotional and practical aspects of your wishes can help prevent upset further down the line. And as much as it’s a moment for you to share your wishes, it’s also important you create an opportunity for the family member to be heard.

How to distribute your estate fairly amongst family?

So you've decided to write your Will, communicate your wishes and keep asset distribution well up to date. But how to go about distributing your estate fairly so that family members don’t get upset?

Choosing who gets what can be a complex and sensitive process. Whilst careful estate planning offers the opportunity, and the time, to make these decisions wisely, it never makes it an easy call.

Starting with identifying all the assets in your estate can help create clarity on matching assets to family members. You may wish to consider creating a Will with an equal share, or with specific provisions for family heirlooms suited to individual needs and interests.

Either way, taking a personalised approach with as equal a distribution as possible, can help to keep the peace. In seeking the advice of a legal professional, and communicating these plans ahead of time, you also reduce the chance family members might contest later down the line.

Things can get complicated, but put simply- a fair distribution is an open, transparent and thoughtful distribution- and that’s all your family can ask.

How Safewill can Help

Write and update your Will with ease when you choose Safewill. Our online platform provides an affordable and flexible way to write your Will with the support and approval from specialised lawyers.

Start today by reaching out on 1800 10 33 10 or get in touch via live chat, to get started now.

Last updated 22nd May 2023
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Hannah Comiskey
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