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Inheritance Disputes

Sadly, familes fall out. When there is money involved this happens depressingly frequently. It is not uncommon for arguments to take place about who is entitled to what on the death of a parent or other relative.

These disputes need to be dealt with quickly and with great care and skill if they are not to turn into long drawn out and very expensive battles that can tear a family apart.

Where the dispute involves an inheritance with an international component - typically where the person who has died lived in one country and the assets are located in another - dealing with these disputes also requires lawyers and other professional advisors who are familiar with the laws and tax systems in each of the countries involved.

The lawyers, accountants and other professionals who are the members of The International Law Partnership Ltd. have many years of experience in this field.

How do disputes arise?

The most common disputes, in our experience, arise when a parent has remarried or taken another partner and the children of the first marriage cannot accept the extent to which that new partner's protection impacts upon their right to inherit.

Disputes also arise as to who should inherit specific items, often of great sentimental value; about the valuation of assets and about almost any other issue that needs to be dealt with in the course of dealing with the inheritance.

Avoiding Disputes

It is much cheaper, less stressful and less damaging to the long term cohesion of the family if disputes can be avoided.

Without doubt, the two most effective steps to avoiding disputes about inheritance are open discussion within your family and the preparation of a clear, carefully drafted and fair Will. See our guides to 'Making a Will' and 'Inheritance Planning and Tax Minimisation' for some of the issues involved.

If a dispute arises, how should we deal with it?

The golden rule is to act quickly - before everybody is entrenched in their position, passions are inflamed and people lose touch with relality or common sense.

The second most important rules is to take early legal advice from someone who is a specialist in the field. It may be that that specialist will have to tell you that, under the applicable law, you simply do not have any rights. In this case the only possible solution to the problem is some gentle negotiation. On other occasions the lawyer may tell you that you have a very strong legal case but that dealing with it as a dispute is likely to take several years and cost tens of thousands of $/£/€. In this case, too, negotiation tends to be the better bet.

In fact, negotiation is almost always the better bet.

Successful negotiation - by which I mean obtaining a result acceptable to all parties - involves special skills on the part of your legal advisors. Lawyers all arond the world are, too often, addicted to the process of litigation - sorting out the problem in Court.

A negotiated settlement can often leave the family bruised but still speaking to each other.

What happens if we cannot negotiate a settlement?

Generally, the dispute will then have to go to Court. At this point, too, you need skilled and experienced legal advisors familiar with dealing with these international legal and inheritance issues.

There are a number of special points that need to be taken into account in these cases. Which Court has the authority to deal with the case? If Courts in both countries can claim to be able do so, which will work better for you? Which law will apply when dealing with the case? Will it be the law of the country where the deceased lived, or the law of the country where the people in dispute live, or the law of the country where the assets are located?

In many cases, the key legal provisions will be those in the country where the assets are located. In many cases, the legal system in that country will operate very differently from the legal system in your country and so your lawyer will need to explain to you not only the merits of your case, but how the case will be dealt with as this can sometimes cause you great suprise.

Unless your lawyer is experienced in dealing with international clients, he or she is likely to miss out many important aspects of this advice simply because the issues seems so simple to someone who is based in the country that it is, surely, not necessary to waste time or breath explaining them to the client.


It is probably too late to tell you this, but a little money spent avoiding a dispute by making a proper Will is going to save you a huge amount of money and grief later on.

If you are already in a dispute, taking immediate legal advice from the right people will also save you a lot of time, cost and heartache.

These are complicated issues to explain and they need to be explained to you clearly and in your own language.

Next steps

Please look at the Legal Guides, videos, MP3 seminars and other materials set out to the right of this page.

If you would like us to help you, please complete our Client Pack and send it back to us. We will contact you to clarify your requirements and then introduce you to the person most appropriate to deal with your case.

If you do not find the information that you need, please send us an email explaining your problem and we will contact you.

© The International Law Partnership Ltd. Page last revised 5 Feb 2010

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