Coping with the death of a loved-one is always a difficult time, and claiming an inheritance can add to the stress, especially if the estate is contested by one or more of the beneficiaries.

Here's a brief overview of how to claim an inheritance, together with advice on what to do if issues arise.

Claim an inheritance as a beneficiary

If the deceased has named you as a beneficiary in their will, claiming your inheritance should be a straightforward matter. A family lawyer together with the will's executors will handle matters for you, and you won't need to make a formal claim. However, the administration of an estate can take many months or even years to finalise, so you may have a long wait before you receive anything.

Claiming an inheritance

Inheritance becomes more complicated and potentially problematic if no will was left by the deceased, or if you feel that the terms of the will were unfair.

In the absence of a will, your entitlement to inheritance will be governed by the complicated rules of intestacy. Usually, when someone dies 'intestate' and leaves no will, any spouse or civil partner will inherit part of the estate, and the rest will be divided amongst the deceased's other surviving relatives.

Complications and disputes frequently arise where couples with children were living together but were unmarried or were not in a legally-recognised civil partnership. This is particularly tricky where there were previous relationships and stepchildren. However, anyone who was financially dependent on the deceased is entitled to make a claim for 'reasonable financial provision'. Such people include spouses, former spouses, civil partners, cohabitees, children and stepchildren.

This principle applies even if the deceased's will specifies a smaller inheritance, or no inheritance at all, for someone who qualifies as a financial dependent.

Disputed inheritance claims

Sometimes disputes can arise in other circumstances. A will may be ruled invalid if it can be shown that it was drawn up under pressure, or if the deceased remarried after the original will was drawn up.

A will may be deemed to be invalid if the bequest is not clear, or if the estate has been left to one of the witnesses of the will. A will may also be disputed if the executors make an error in the administration process, or if the will is deemed to have been misinterpreted either deliberately or accidentally.

Inheritance claims can be complicated to finalise. If you are unsure how to make a claim or if you are unhappy with the inheritance you have received, always consult a family lawyer for advice.