Inheritance Disputes Rise

Disputes over inheritances are rising, as more people in England and Wales take legal action to try and claim a bigger share of estates.

Recent published statistics, show the number of contested wills being held at the High Court, reached an all time high in 2019, at 188 cases – an increase of 47% on 2018, according to the figures released by the Ministry of Justice.

These are the tip of the iceberg, as most disputes are settled or abandoned before the case gets to Court.

The costs of bringing a claim can be expensive, but the relentless rise of house prices in many parts of the UK, means that a growing proportion of estates are seen by potential claimants as worth contesting.

At the same time, more complex family structures, through cohabitation and multiple marriages, are driving the number of claims to an estate, often resulting in disputes.

We see the challenge on an estate as becoming more common, with high estate values, making it worthwhile for spouses, partners and children, and other potential claimants, to seek a bigger slice of that pie.

Claimants have a greater chance of winning a bigger share of the estate, if they were financially dependent on the deceased during that person’s lifetime.

One factor driving the surge in cases, is the fact that unmarried couples who live together, are not automatically entitled to a share of the ‘others’ estate, unless the deceased has made a will in their favour, which can lead to them pursuing a claim in Court, in order to inherit from their deceased partner.

Validity of a will can be disputed for a variety of reasons, including lack of mental capacity when it was made; undue influence of a particular party, or errors in the ways the will was prepared or executed.

Another factor driving claims, is that families living father apart from each other, which often leads testators to favouring non family members, such as friends, carers, and charities in their wills.

They often believe their relatives have benefited sufficiently during their lifetime, and are successfully making their own way in life. Or that others are more needy or deserving. All of these circumstances can create a risk of multiple claims from different aspects of a deceased life.

To minimise the risk of claims, we recommend you take advice in the preparation of your will, which should be professionally drawn up.

If a will is likely to be considered controversial, it is important that the person writing it, manages beneficiaries expectations ahead of time.

This could be done with what is known as ‘a letter of wishes’ to be left with the will, or in some cases, the reasons being set out in the will itself.

It is also important, if you can sit the family down, and explain your intentions, and record that this conversation has taken place, it will reduce the risk of them having to go to Court and explain your will.

If you have issues regarding Inheritance Disputes please do not hesitate to contact us.