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How To Minimise A Will Dispute

Posted: Friday, 4 January 2019 @ 13:43

According to reports, the family of Muhammad Ali look set to fight it out over his £35million fortune. As arrangements were finalised for the boxing legend’s funeral in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky, lawyers were gearing up for a complicated carve-up of his vast estate.

This did not take long.

Ali was married four times and leaves nine children – seven daughters and two sons. He also leave a brother, Rahaman Ali.

It is understood that his fourth wife Lonnie – whom he married in 1986 – will act as executor.

But there are divisions within the family. Sources speaking to newspapers claim it is likely “to get messy”.

We will have to see how the situation evolves but this has the classic signs of a big legal dispute.

On the one hand, at least he has done a will. If Muhammad Ali was English it will be subject to an intestacy if he had not done a will.

However, even if you have a will often with multiple families (e.g. 2nd /3rd   /4th marriages) this is a recipe for conflict. Frankly what often happens (e.g. the testator e.g. Muhammad Ali) can totally underestimate the level of resentment and conflict which bubbles to the surface once one passes away. This lack of understanding of the human condition leads to lack of preparation of the will, lack of warning to the would be beneficiaries (or not) leading to a will dispute.

With lawyers looking at a no win/no fee agreement, there is the potential for a nice little legal dispute with yes, lawyers making some good money.  

In England if you are wealthy and are looking to minimise the prospect of legal dispute some guidelines are below.

1 Recognise that you do have the right of testamentary freedom. Subject to below, the Courts should back you up despite the documented Ilott case going through appeal.

2. Honestly Anticipate Where Your Disputes Will Lie. Often testators (will makers) do not get real and they do anticipate where the legal disputes can manifest. A ruthless inventory of what may happen can be a good step.  

3. Consider Mitigation Steps. E.g. consider making a no contest clause in the will,  who will be executor, consider doing a letter of wishes where you communicate what you have done,(this can morally undermine would be Claimants) and consider dissolving assets prior to death to make it an unattractive playing field for would be litigants. Bluntly, get your retaliation in before you die.