How the increased variety of family structures can lead to a dispute

7th October 2021

An article in the Sunday Times on 3rd October highlighted how the increasing variety in family structures is a factor leading to increased litigation following a death of a family member.

The article picked up on some high profile disputes and mentioned that the number of cases has probably risen by around 50% in just a couple of years. However, the full extent of this issue is harder to gauge as the vast majority of cases never reach the court, but it is probably fair to say that there are numerous disputes of this type every year.

Often, people face a dilemma as to how they may benefit their spouse or partner on their death but also make provision for their own children, step-children, and indeed other relatives.  This dilemma is often at the heart of the problem but probably the best advice, is that doing nothing and hoping the issue will resolve itself is not likely to help matters.

The key to avoiding, or at least minimising, these issues lie in having a properly drawn up will which is flexible enough to reflect the interests of different family members. In particularly difficult or complicated family situations, leaving guidance or a letter of explanation as to why things were done in a certain way can often be a great help, as can raising issues during one’s lifetime.

Whilst people are free to leave their estate on their death as they wish, there is also legislation which allows certain categories of potential beneficiaries such as spouses, children, and others to make a claim against the deceased’s estate on the grounds that reasonable financial provision has not been made for them.  Such a claim is not guaranteed to succeed but it is something to bear in mind when drawing up your will, as the costs of a disputed will or inheritance can be considerable.

Colman Coyle has considerable experience in advising in relation to the preparation of wills, and estate planning, as well as advising family members after a death, and if you would like to discuss the issues raised here, please contact Patrick Green on +44 (0)20 7354 3000 or

Patrick Green

Patrick Green

Senior Associate