Our main area of practice is Swedish and international law of succession. As most of our assignments during the last fifteen years have related to issues associated with inheritance, our advocate law offices have accumulated extensive experience in these matters.
We assist in all kinds of matters and cases involving issues of inheritance. Such matters may involve advice regarding the need for a marital or cohabitee property agreement or the drawing up of wills or other documents. Other cases may involve assistance with estate administration or various disputes linked to inheritance situations, such as the validity and interpretation of wills or other legal documents or restrictions to the mandatory legal inheritance portion. We also accept appointments by courts to manage and administer estates, referred to as ‘estate administrator appointments’.
In addition to matters relating specifically to inheritance, our cases often also involve other legal issues that may arise upon a death. For instance, mention may be made of tenancy law problems or other issues regarding housing, questions concerning the winding up of a business or the implications of a shareholder agreement.
We regularly provide assistance in the drawing up of wills. This may for example be prompted by a need to protect a surviving cohabitee or a wish to transfer a family business to the next generation in a commercial yet fair way.
In our opinion far too many rely on the statutory rules of succession law, expecting these to govern everything in the best way when they die. Although this was the ambition of the legislator, many of us find that we are not in the ‘standard’ family situation that the legislation primarily envisaged. Even if we are, we may still have assets that we wish to distribute in a personal way among those who are close to us and who we care about.
Many also seem to be under the impression that a will is a simple, standardised document that can be prepared using a standard form as which only a few personal details need to be entered. We do not agree. It is equally inappropriate as to rely on the statutory rules sharing out the inheritance in the way in which we would like to see it distributed. In our opinion, in order for a will to provide the desired result, the drawing up of the will must normally be preceded by a thorough review of the testator’s full financial situation and the fundamental aims that the testator seeks to achieve with the will. Consequently, a will should be drawn up and formulated by a lawyer with experience in inheritance law, who is best able to appreciate the overall issue and the implications of the various courses of action as well as the legal implications of different wordings.
There are situations where the circumstances are such that a will can be very brief, with almost standard wording. However, in a will where there are opposing interests on the part of several successors the wording and content will become extremely important. We often see in the course of our work the ensuing costly consequences of poorly prepared and worded wills emerging as disputes regarding interpretation and ineffective provisions. In addition to this, the statutory rules and formal requirements for wills are strictly applied and even a minor deviation from these rules may have disastrous consequences, for instance total invalidity of the will.
Another misconception is that a will, once it has been drawn up, can be put in a safe place and then forgotten about by the testator. This is not the case. A will is often a perishable product and its shelf life depends on its content. It is therefore important to review the content of the will when the family profile or financial situation changes in any essential respect.
A large portion (proportion) of our assignments involves estate administration in one form or another. In some cases, we act as counsel for one of the parties with an interest in the estate while in other cases we have been appointed by the court to manage and administer the estate; known as ‘estate administrator appointments’. Estate administration basically aims to identify all of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, pay the debts and then allocate the remainder of the assets in accordance with the deceased’s will or law. Even if these measures may appear to be rather simple and clear, estate administration sometimes becomes very complicated and time-consuming.
The legal issues that may arise in conjunction with the administration of an estate may also vary a great deal. These issues might exclusively involve the law of succession, such as questions regarding the interpretation and application of the will, or questions concerning advances on inheritance and the allocation of the remainder of the estate. They may also involve the assessment of disputed or doubtful assets and liabilities of the estate or completely different areas within law. For example, questions may arise involving labour law as well as property and company law or law of associations and tax law issues when the deceased has run a business of some kind.
We undertake assignments relating to all kinds of disputes that may arise as a result of a death, and we can assist both in court and with out-of-court settlement negotiations and mediation.
We have extensive experience of most types of disputes in inheritance issues, such as disputes challenging the validity of a will owing to deficiencies in the formal requirements and/or restrictions on legal capacity, interpretation and application disputes in the event of vague or ineffective provisions, and disputes concerning restrictions to the mandatory legal inheritance portion.
Other contentious matters that often arise in conjunction with someone´s death are, for instance, challenges to the validity of a legal measure that the deceased has implemented during his or her lifetime, demands for reports on the administration or other management of the assets of the deceased or claims related to ownership of property.
In our experience, the courts, and in particular the lower courts, apply very stringent evidential requirements on a successor who wishes to question the validity of a will. Anyone wishing to pursue such litigation must consequently be aware of the poor prospects of success, in any event if one is not able to or does not have the capacity to pursue the case at a higher court. One must also bear in mind that the outcome of inheritance disputes often shifts between instances of courts.