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Year on year the number of disputed estates that end up in the court room has increased massively and this fast moving area of law does not appear to be slowing at any point soon.

The main reasons for this include:

  1. The rising price of houses.  The family home is usually the biggest asset.  On death a will done many years ago may leave the property to one sibling and, for example, bank accounts to another.  Over the years the house price has increased massively where as “cash” investments have not increased.  This discrepancy has the potential to become a dispute between siblings. 
  2. Similarly, as it becomes harder and harder for children to get onto the housing ladder, there may be one child living at home with the parent.  Once the parent dies, that sibling could be at risk of losing the home they live in as they have to pay out a sibling or other beneficiary under that parents will. 
  3. A parent could re-marry and leave everything to a new spouse (which means children may make a claim).  Or, the parent’s children could feel aggrieved at the new spouse and feel that they should benefit more from their deceased parents estate than that new spouse. 
  4. As the population grows older, mental capacity (or the lack of it) will become more and more of an issue.  This inevitably leads to more people writing wills at times when they do not have the mental capacity to do so.
  5. Even if mental capacity is not an issue, physical frailty and old age could be.  Younger family members may put pressure on their older relatives to distribute their estate more in their favour.  This is known as undue influence.  It is important to note that undue influence does not have to be malicious but more so, it can be subtle and (at times) an unconscious process from the person exerting the influence.
  6. It is not just after death where issues occur, during lifetime capacity can still be an issue.  For example, when a power of attorney is taken out and abused by the attorney for their own benefit. 

A series of articles have been prepared by Steven Murgatroyd, a senior associate in our Contentious Probate team which cover some of the issues above and others. 

The case of Miles & Anor v Shearer [2021] EWHC 1000 discussed claims made by adult children who are disgruntled with their entitlement to their father’s estate. 

Savage -v- Savage [2024] EWCA Civ 49 is a technical case relating to the Trusts of Land Act as to whether the minority or majority of beneficiaries have the most “say” in how estate assets are dealt with. 

TA v the Public Guardian [2023] serves as a warning for those who act as certificate providers of LPAs and their duties to make sure donors understand what they are signing up to. 

Finally, the recent case of Biria v Biria [2024] EWHC 121 (Ch) is a high net worth estate that discusses capacity, undue influence and also the niche (and increasing) area of “fraudulent calumny”.  This where someone changes their will based on the untrue assertions about a potential beneficiary that are made to the person making the will.  Such assertions being taken on board by them meaning that the potential beneficiary is then written out of the will.

Our Contentious Probate team can assist with all types of inheritance and will disputes. For further advice please contact the team on 01484 558058.

The above article is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any part of the information given