On your side: Keren Bobker sheds light on UK laws on inheritances and the rights of survivorship.
UK will must be drawn up properly to avoid inheritance conflicts
My father died a few months ago and the only will we have been able to find was home-made. He left all his assets to me (his only child) and to his wife, my stepmother, in equal shares. My stepmother's solicitor has said that because all his assets were held jointly, I will not receive anything. I have never really got on with my stepmother but this seems very unfair. Before I engage a lawyer in the UK where the assets are, could you tell me if you think this is right? TL Dubai
There are two ways to own property in joint names in the UK, either as "joint tenants" or as "tenants in common". Where a property is owned as joint tenants, the death of the first owner means that ownership automatically falls to the second owner, regardless of any will. In law, this is called the right of survivorship. Where a property is held as tenants in common, the joint owner's share is passed in accordance with any will. It therefore depends how your father and your stepmother set up ownership of the property, but if they were joint tenants, then what you have been told is correct. If it was owned as "tenants in common" then you should receive half of the property. No matter how the property was owned, you may still have a legal claim against your stepmother's estate, although you would have to demonstrate that the will is "useless" (in the legal sense) as half the value failing to pass to an only child is not what your father intended. The will could be declared invalid, but under intestacy rules you may still not benefit as these do not override joint tenancy ownership. It could be possible to argue that you were promised an immediate proprietary interest by your father, that is, a share of the property and you acted to your financial detriment based on this promise, but this is not an easy thing to prove and significant documentary evidence would need to be provided. It is costly to employ lawyers to pursue a case like this and it could take a very long time to resolve, with no guarantee of a final ruling in your favour, so you would need to consider if the cost is worthwhile. You could also try appealing to your stepmother's better nature and to respect your father's wishes by converting ownership to tenancy in common so that you can eventually benefit. This situation demonstrates the importance of having a will drawn up properly.
Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at email@example.com