Since March 2020, almost every aspect of life as we knew it has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inheritance disputes have not escaped these seismic changes.
It may be that someone making or defending a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (known as the IPFDA) has been affected by COVID-19.
An IPFDA claim is a claim which can be made by a spouse, partner, child or dependant of the deceased person if they feel that the provision made for them in the will or intestacy rules is unreasonable. If the Court agrees that it is unreasonable, the Court will decide what that person should instead receive from the estate.
Even if the deceased person died before the pandemic, IPFDA claims are assessed at the date of trial. The Courts assess all of the circumstances in these claims to decide whether the provision for the claimant is unreasonable, and the financial circumstances of the claimant and the defendants, who are the other beneficiaries of the estate, are often key factors.
This means that if the claimant or one or more of the defendants has suffered financially as a result of the pandemic, or alternatively if they have benefited financially from the increase in value of some commodities and some types of real property, this will all be considered by the Court in deciding whether the provision for the claimant is unreasonable.
Another factor which the Courts will consider are any disabilities of the claimant or defendants. A party suffering from long-COVID will be able to explain to the Court how this affects them and may increase their financial needs or decrease their earning capacity.
Remotely witnessed wills
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has temporarily authorised the remote witnessing of wills. The change was made retrospectively in September 2020 and applies to validate wills witnessed remotely between 31st January 2020 and 31st January 2022. In order to qualify, a strict procedure must have been followed in the signing of the will by the testator and the witnesses. If the procedure was not followed then the remotely witnessed will is invalid, with the testator’s previous valid will or the intestacy rules applying.
In addition to the formal requirements of the new law allowing remotely witnessed wills, a remotely witnessed will may be challenged on other grounds. It is easy to imagine that remote will drafting is liable to other risks such as the testator being coerced by someone off-camera, the will drafter’s assessment of the testator’s mental capacity being hindered or the testator not fully understanding the will before signing it. Any of these would be grounds for a challenge to the validity of the will, and, if successful, the testator’s previous will or the intestacy rules would apply.
It may be that there are concerns about the executor or administrator’s handling of an estate being administered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration may have been affected or delayed by volatile property and share prices, or the executor may have delayed the administration due to travel restrictions or businesses being closed or slowing down during the lockdowns. Executors have extensive duties to the estate’s creditors and beneficiaries and if they are not fulfilling those duties, action can be taken to compel them to act or even for their replacement as executor. If the matter reaches Court, the judge will consider all of the circumstances of the case including the reasons that the executor has given for the delay.
If you have suffered a bereavement and are concerned that your loved one’s will may be invalid, or if you wish to uphold a will which is being contested, our specialist inheritance dispute lawyers may be able to assist. Send us an email at email@example.com or call our client co-ordinator on 01626 202384.