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When the Dispute Becomes Personal

15 July

When the Dispute Becomes Personal

Wills and Inheritance Disputes are among the most personal of disputes a claimant or defendant can find themselves embroiled in.

Claims are often complex with many sides to the situation and polarised opinions. As specialist practitioners we never see two cases with identical circumstances. The way to settlement or conclusion is never the same twice.  

A recent case heard in Wales in the Crown Court demonstrated how highly charged and emotive situations can take a severe turn when inheritance dispute arise. The defendant Lex Littlewood threatened to stab his estranged cousin Jane James over a dispute regarding his father’s estate of £400,000. Mr Littlewood alleged that Ms James’ family had stolen money from his father’s estate and he entered her house with a knife and made threats to stab her.

As part of his defence Mr Littlewood cited the stress of the ongoing inheritance dispute, and his barrister Mr Jones argued that the incident was an uncharacteristic turn of behaviour, exacerbated by the family circumstances. Mr Littlewood’s sister had also recently passed away. Mr Littlewood pled guilty to affray and was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment.

Whilst this is an extreme circumstance, it serves to demonstrate the toll that a family inheritance dispute and litigation can take on all sides.

So, what is a solution? Practitioners always face the question of when to litigate and when to mediate a dispute. Early mediation is often favoured, from both a costs-saving perspective and to save all parties from significant stress if a matter is settled early.

The Covid-19 pandemic has marked a turn in the way that parties can mediate. The necessity to settle matters in a lockdown forced parties and their lawyers to try remote virtual mediations rather than the traditional format of being in-person. Such has been the success of virtual mediation, via Zoom or other video conferencing technology, that even with an ease in lockdown measures we predict many parties will prefer remote mediation to in-person settlement discussions.

Whether or not an inheritance dispute is capable of settlement, or needs to be resolved by Court action, the Bell & Buxton Wills, Trust and Inheritance Disputes Team have the expertise and experience to guide and advise you throughout the process.

John Breeze advises claimants, defendants, and neutral parties such as executors. For an initial no obligation discussion please contact them on 0114 249 5969.