The headline story about multi-millionaire Dale Vince, who famously lost his legal battle to prevent a former partner make a claim on his fortune 30 years after their relationship ended, came as a shock to many. One of the decisive factors in this case was that Mr Vince was unable to produce a binding court order or final financial settlement detailing the division of assets following divorce.
This landmark divorce settlement case now means that there is no time limit for potential maintenance claims if there is no evidence of a final and binding financial settlement following separation or divorce -this clearly poses a problem for any executors dealing with an estate after death.
Changes in traditional family structures and an increase in divorce, step children and second families has become an increasing problem for executors. In the last five years there has been a 700% increase in disputes over wills. Rival claims on the estate frequently originate from former partners, step children, siblings or half-siblings. While many of these disputes are often resolved out of court they can be very stressful for named beneficiaries as well as the executor; more alarmingly for the executor a disagreement about the distribution of the estate can result in a direct claim against them because this legally binding role carries unlimited liability.
If someone has asked you to act as their executor and you are aware of a previous marriage or long-term relationship, or children outside the existing relationship, it is essential to find out if all financial settlements have been fully resolved and that their will takes account of any complications, before you accept the role. If a former partner, child or step child emerges later with a legitimate claim on the estate you could end up having to settle the claim yourself or face legal proceedings.