Moral Money: our reader wants to avoid fuelling an existing family feud
Dear Moral Money,
A few years ago there was a big family fallout between my gran and my mum. My gran went so far as to change her will, cutting my mum out of it completely.
As a result, my sister and I stand to inherit an equal split of Gran’s house when she dies.
Even though they’ve set aside their differences and are now back on speaking terms, Gran hasn’t changed her will back again – and Mum has no idea that she’ll be getting nothing.
I don’t really like to think about these things, as Gran is alive and well, but no one would say no to getting half a house. However, I’m really worried about what will happen to our family when the time comes that Gran passes away, and the truth about her will is revealed. You hear so many stories about families falling out about these things, but I don’t feel it’s my place to break the news to my mum.
My sister and I are in the fortunate position that we already own our own homes, and I’d be happy if Gran just gave the house to my mum instead if it meant us all maintaining a good relationship – but that doesn’t seem to be her wish.
If I say nothing, and wait until my mum finds out about the will when the time comes, what would happen if she gets angry and tries to fight for the house?
A person’s will, and who is or isn’t named in it, is a deeply personal thing. And, until the time actually comes, no-one ever really knows what that document holds.
Even if you see the document, it can be revoked, amended or superseded at any time. While someone may be quite happy to share the good news that you are to benefit from an alteration, they are not always so quick to tell you they changed their mind and reduced your share.
Once you accept this point, it should hopefully become clearer that it is the testator’s right to bequeath assets as they wish. Bar very few reasons for a legal appeal, this is not something the beneficiaries, or potential beneficiaries, have any control over.
Although it clearly makes you uncomfortable that you believe there to be a secret between you, your sister and your grandmother that excludes your mother, agitating things might cause them to fall out again.
I bet there are some things between your mother and your grandmother that you don’t know about, given their relationship goes back to before you were born. So I would leave her to exercise her right to leave her house to whoever she chooses. If it comes to you when she passes away, then you can choose what happens next.
There are also issues with tackling this from your grandmother’s side. Should it come to light that you had actively encouraged her to change her will to include your mother, it could be seen as using undue influence – which could risk invalidating the will altogether.
In your case, because you would be campaigning for change that benefited your mother rather than you, it may not be so serious, but even so you could still be questioning whether your grandmother knows what is right for her and undermining her right to choose.
Should the will stay as it is, your mother may indeed get upset. There’s not much you can do about that. She may even try to contest the will – but there are very few ways she could do this successfully.
Firstly, it depends where in the UK the dispute is taking place. Jo Summers, trust and estate practitioner, partner at law firm Jurit LLP, said: “In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people can essentially do what they want with their wills, thanks to ‘freedom of disposition’.
“In Scotland, children are entitled to a proportionate share of their parents’ estate, which can be enforced.”
According to Ms Summers, in most of the UK your mother could only apply to court on the grounds of your grandmother’s will not containing a “reasonable provision” for her.
“The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 could be used, but you must usually prove financial dependency on the person who died, and show that their will would not leave you enough to live on, which I don’t think would work in this case,” she said.
The only other route your mother would have is trying to prove that the will is invalid. “She may suggest that the grandmother was forced into the will against her wishes, or that the document has been forged, or that your grandmother didn’t have capacity,” said Ms Summers.
However, these kinds of claims need evidence, which is difficult to come by, and typically require legal assistance. It would therefore be difficult for your mother to make these kinds of claims stick, so if you wanted the terms of the will to remain as they are, you should be in a good position.
Once you and your sister own the property, you could also choose to “rectify” the situation yourselves and include your mother.
Provided all beneficiaries agree, you can use a “deed of variation” to agree to change your grandmother’s will posthumously and pass the house to her anyway if you feel strongly enough about it and are not troubled by the idea of grandmother coming back to haunt you.