Wills and probate lawyers look set for a busy January as tensions over Christmas can spark moves to change wills, according to research from law firm Stephensons.
According to UK law firm Stephensons, late December and early January are ‘peak season’ for those taking the drastic step to cut someone out of their will or protect money and assets from siblings, offspring – even husbands and wives – after Christmas quarrels. The findings suggest that the month immediately following the festive season will bring a 162 per cent spike in enquiries, based on previous year’s figures. In 2016/17, calls to the firm’s trust and estate planning lawyers nearly trebled as a result of the phenomenon and its staff are anticipating similar numbers this year.
Far from bringing families closer together, it is believed that annual get-togethers to celebrate Christmas can actually lead to a break-down in relationships, particularly where relatives have not seen each other throughout the year and old tensions have been allowed to fester, according to Jill Rushton, head of wills and probate at Stephensons. 'Christmas is meant to be a happy time where we enjoy the company of our extended family, bringing us closer together. However, where there is already a rift – whether it’s between parents and children, or even in a marriage – the festive season can actually have entirely the opposite effect. Every family has its disagreements and certain topics which we try to avoid. But spending so much time indoors, out of the cold, in close confinement, over-fed and sometimes partaking in one too many, has a habit of bringing simmering tensions to the surface,' she said, adding that 'for some people, it can be the final straw.'
Previous research has suggested that the average British family will have no fewer than five arguments on Christmas Day alone, with the first happening at 10:13am. Causes include everything from board games, to cooking Christmas dinner and dissatisfaction at gifts. Political differences between the generations will also play a significant role, with the ongoing saga of Brexit likely to cause long-lasting rifts between family members.
However, for those looking to disinherit their relative entirely, Ms Rushton suggests exercising caution. 'It is not as straight forward as simply cutting someone out completely,' she says. 'Recent cases have shown that a will can be challenged and overruled in the courts if it is believed to be unreasonable or purely spiteful. It is important to have legitimate reasons and for those to be expressed clearly and for the record in a ‘letter of reasons’, which is kept alongside your will. This requires careful drafting and consideration.'