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Dying Without a Will: Resolving Inheritance Disputes



Written By:

Janice Powell

Partner & Head of Dispute Resolution

Ince (Cardiff)

It is important to have a Will in place in order to protect and control the ownership of your personal and business assets in the event of your death. However, for a multitude of reasons, many people die without creating a Will.

This is also known as intestacy; the process set out by the Government which dictates who inherits various assets when a person dies without a will. This process often leads to inheritance/succession disputes, which when taken to court, can incur large legal fees and cause larger, family disputes over the ownership of assets.

However, these disputes can be resolved outside of Court using a range of methods of alternative dispute resolution.

What happens when you die without a Will?

Many people still believe that unmarried couples living together as “common law spouses” will automatically inherit their estate when they die.

However, the rules of intestacy mean that in fact, relatives (and in some cases, distant relatives) are often entitled to inherit their estate. Once the relatives have been located, a Personal Representative (also known as an Executor, if there had been a valid will) is selected.

Can ‘common law spouses’ appeal?

Nevertheless, for individuals who are financially dependent on their spouse, there is room for a strong claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for financial support and accommodation.

These claims are often pursued through the Court; which although can reap the desired result, for most people, it can also be a time-consuming, costly and stressful process.

On the other hand, individuals can choose to pursue one of the alternative forms of dispute resolution outside of Court. Often, this process starts with a relaxed face-to-face meeting with the Personal Representative (or Executor), where both parties’ solicitors/representatives will explore the emotional and legal issues arising from both the original and the competing claims.

In the majority of cases, parties will often meet an acceptable settlement following this meeting. If a settlement was not achieved, the costs of pursuing a claim to a full trial in court often depletes the value of the estate the client is claiming.

What are the benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) seeks to reduce the costs, time spent preparing for, and attending to Court trials, while avoiding lengthy delays awaiting Court dates. Whilst ADR comes with its own costs, these can be far less than the total cost of preparing for and attending a trial in court.

Alternative Dispute Resolution can allow parties to reach a settlement potentially benefiting both parties – rather than a “win/loss” situation. ADR can also help maintain positive business and personal relationships between parties.

In most cases, although the share of the estate is reduced by the claim, the legal costs are significantly minimised and much of the estate is preserved by resolving the dispute out of court using methods of alternative dispute resolution.

How can our Dispute Resolution team help?

Our Dispute Resolution team in Cardiff always explore the appropriate medium for alternative dispute resolution (dependant on the individual case and the non-legal factors which need to be taken into account).

For more information about Alternative Dispute Resolution, please contact a member of our team:

Janice Powell, Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution (Cardiff) at [email protected]

The information above is not and should not be taken to be legal advice. You should not take action or omit to take action based on this information.

If you require any help on the issues raised above, please get in touch using the details above.


Ince has strong roots in Cardiff; as local solicitors Francis Ince and John Ingledew first set up practice here before founding the firm in 1870. We are proud of our heritage; which has enabled us to cultivate a seamless ‘one-firm’ approach across our global group.

We understand the ever-changing market in England and Wales, and how to support the growth of your business. Whether you are a business start-up or an established multinational corporation, through our Cardiff office you can access fully serviced commercial legal advice. Our Cardiff team also provides advice to individuals across the full-spectrum of personal law matters; from family law to residential property.

As a part of The Ince Group, an international legal and consultancy services provider with offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, we work seamlessly with other leading regional and international firms to offer you a wealth of legal services.


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