Molly Ross Discusses the increase in will disputes

Arguing in a court at a time of family bereavement is normally the last thing on anyone’s mind at a time of loss. However, the figures show that legal disputes over inheritances, wills and administering estates are becoming become increasingly common.

Most data suggests that the number of these disputes have more than doubled in the last decade. In fact, the Financial Times claims almost 390 probate disputes were brought before the High Court over the first nine months of 2023, more than double the amount in the same period in 2016. The main reasons for this seem to include an increase in the value of estates, specifically with property at the heart of this increase; longer life expectancy and the increasing amount of second marriages and non-traditional family structures.

It is important to note that successful claims are difficult to bring and can have a devastating impact on families who are already grieving. Regardless of size of the estate, those who wish to bring a claim have several potential legal options under English law. Claimants can challenge the validity of a will on grounds including “undue influence”, “want of knowledge and approval”, or even claims that the individual did not understand what they were signing. However, persuading a court is not easy and can be very expensive

If a Will doesn’t make provision, or enough provision, for somebody that is eligible to claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, that person may be able to make a claim for provision or further provision from an Estate. The lack of advice that may have been sought when drafting a Will may render an Estate liable to a claim from a family member or dependant. The increasingly diverse range of family structures means that some relatives may not have been provided for by way of a Will. These challenges may come from children of a previous marriage, or partners who have separated but have yet to make their divorce final. The Law Commission has noted increasing concern about “predatory marriages” where someone uses marriage as a way to seize assets.

It can be avoided by having those difficult conversations, as this potentially limits the possibilities of later challenges as heirs and other interested partes can be told in advance how assets were to be divided. If you have concerns about the validity of a deceased person’s Will, or if you are concerned about the provision (or lack of provision) that has been made in a Will, it is important to act quickly. There are strict time limits for bringing a claim, and the Court will rarely allow claims outside of this time limit.

For further information on this topic or on any other legal area, please contact John Szepietowski or Kay Stewart at Audley Chaucer Solicitors on 01372 303444 or email or visit our Linkedin page.

Molly Ross

This information was correct as of April 2024


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