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Recent statistics published by the Ministry of Justice record that the number of contentious probate proceedings has almost doubled between 2006 and 2011. Similarly, a report in 2013 by private bank Coutts which surveyed 270 millionaires found that one third (37%) of families have been involved in serious conflict over inheritance matters.
These disputes do not just affect the wealthy and can arise in families of more modest means. But why has there been such a significant rise in individuals willing to turn to the Courts to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs?
Firstly, the family dynamics of recent times make the possibility of a dispute much more likely. In the UK, 42% of marriages end in divorce (Office of National Statistics, 2012). 46% of marriages are second or subsequent marriages. Therefore ‘blended families’ with step children and step grandchildren are a common part of family life, meaning that there has been a rise in Will challenges and inheritance claims for example by children of the first marriage against more recent spouses over inheritance.
Secondly, many people believe that they can draft an effective Will off the Internet or on a pro-forma document bought from a stationers. However, although these have become very popular as they are seen as a cheaper alternative to using a solicitor, on many occasions they are a false economy as they only cover the basics and their limitations can lead to a contested probate claim.
Thirdly, people are living longer and their estates are generally larger, mainly due to the significant increase in value of their family home over the past few decades. Therefore, there tends to be more money at stake and it is perceived that challenging a Will is worth the risks and cost involved.
A knock on effect of our ageing population is an increase in capacity issues. Dementia is steadily increasing and the elderly may be living in vulnerable situations leaving them open to outside influence when it comes to Will and estate planning.
Lastly, in the age since the Internet and social media, there is a more general awareness of contested probate and increased information available on the challenges available to individuals who have not been adequately provided for on the death of a loved one.
With all this in mind, the trend of increasing Will and inheritance disputes is likely to continue. What we can take from all this is that when Will planning careful consideration should be given to potential claims which could be made on the estate.
Emma Serjeant, Head of Contentious Probate at Ramsdens comments: "If you do find yourself in the situation where you want to challenge a Will or bring a claim for inheritance then speak to a lawyer who specialises in contentious probate. Our specialist contentious probate team has extensive experience in handling dispute over Wills, trusts, estates and inheritance. Our team will invariably help prevent a dispute escalating into expensive Court proceedings and provide objective legal support."