Rise in disputes over inheritances

Disputes over wills

04.02.2009

Disputes over wills have increased and they are likely to rise further, according to new data.

High Court cases involving contested wills and inheritance rose from 83 in 2006 to 228 in 2007. Broken down, the figures show an increase of 153% for battles over wills (from 73 in 2006 to 185 in 2007) and a massive 330% rise for inheritance disputes (from 10 in 2006 to 43 in 2007), according to figures presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State. The figures represent only those cases which have progressed to formal Court proceedings. The majority of cases settle out of Court.

Some of the reasons for the substantial increase in case numbers is attributed to complex family structures, rising values of estates, people living longer and more charitable giving.

Chris Walton of the specialist Contentious Trust & Probate team at Irwin Mitchell says "We have seen many disputes involving second or third spouses - often with children from each marriage, problems with long-term unmarried partnerships and claims concerning illegitimate children."

People left out may think that the deceased was no longer of sound mind when the will was drafted, and challengers increasingly use poor mental health as a reason to contest the will. The number of people suffering from conditions such as dementia is expected to increase to 1 million by 2021. Claims in respect of the validity of Wills are expected to increase accordingly.

There has also been a growth in charitable giving as some older people do not feel as connected to their children, with more families dispersed. Their decisions are often challenged by their relatives.

Experts advise leaving a letter of explanation with the will which can help protect the decisions if the will is disputed.