Wills And Estates Disputes Soar As Winter Death Rate Rises

Lawyers See More Disputed Wills And Estate Administration Problems


  • Winter death rate a third higher than usual
  • Will disputes enquiries up 30%
  • 60% of adults still don’t have a will
  • 1 in 2 doesn’t know how assets are shared after death
  • 52% of Britons don’t know what they might inherit from a partner

Legal experts are warning that higher than average winter death rates are giving rise to more arguments over wills and problems with people trying to carry out estate administration without specialist support.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently revealed that the winter death rate was around a third higher than normal for this time of year with a flu virus and the cold weather potentially to blame. In the two-week period to 23 January there were 28,800 deaths registered which is 32 per cent higher than the average for the same period over the previous five years.

Now, specialist Wills, Trust and Probate lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say that although there is traditional spike in enquiries at this time of year, the high death rate has had a significant impact on the number of people contacting them with problems relating to estate administration and seeking to contest a will. Enquiries to the Disputes team are up 30% a month at this time of year compared to the average monthly figure.

Handling the Estate Administration and acting as executor of a will can have serious legal and financial consequences if not carried out correctly, with people potentially missing tax deadlines and facing the associated penalties, as well as facing future legal challenges if the assets are not distributed correctly.

One of the reasons for the high number of legal problems is that 60% of Britons still don’t have a will even though a study of 2,000 people by law firm Irwin Mitchell revealed that the majority of Britons have no idea how their assets would be distributed after death.

The survey also showed that 46% of Britons don’t know what their net worth is and that 52% of people in relationships don’t know what they might inherit from their partner in the event of their death and 46% have no clue about what accounts or investments their partner or family has.

Lawyers said they are particularly concerned that 30% of over 55’s surveyed admitted not having a will, and a staggering 82% of the 25-34 age group, despite this being the prime age for people getting married and having children.

The Irwin Mitchell study showed that people mostly intended to leave their assets to their partners (66%), children (58%) and siblings (13%) but with 53% saying they aren’t sure how assets are distributed after death, wills experts are warning that they may end up falling foul of intestacy laws.

Expert Opinion
Planning for the future is vital, yet too many people are simply not making the necessary arrangements to manage their assets after their death.

"It may not be something people feel comfortable thinking about but not setting out exactly what you intend in the appropriate legal process can result in significant problems for family and friends who are trying to sort out the web of assets in future.

"With so many people admitting that they have no idea how the intestacy system works, or what their net worth is, it would make sense for them to seek specialist advice and ensure that their assets are handled as they want them to. People usually have a very clear view on who should get their money, house, car etc. but there is no way of guaranteeing this will happen unless there is a legally valid will."
Gillian Coverley, Partner
Expert Opinion
Many Britons are attempting to save money by not making wills or appointing friends and family as administrators to save on costs. But estate administration is a specialist area of law and there are potentially serious pitfalls.

"While some may feel they can save money by avoiding legal advice, our experience is that such an outlook can create a false economy. This is because ultimately, if they do go it alone and subsequently hit problems, then it can be more expensive to sort out the situation in the long run.

"Common issues from failing to take advice include incorrectly distributing the estate and a lack of awareness of the tax issues which surround administering an estate – this can lead to missed tax deadlines and potential penalty charges.

"Also, with specialist advice, they may be able to look at ways to reduce the burden of inheritance tax to the benefit of families and charities.

"Finally, without the relevant experience, people may often be unable to properly and thoroughly assess all of the assets and debts of the deceased – an issue in itself which makes it more likely that distribution of the estate will not be undertaken correctly.

"The consequences of getting such issues wrong can be serious and Personal Representatives are personally and financially liable for any mistakes they make."
Paula Myers, Partner

Listen back to our will disputes expert Gavin Faber discussing these key issues on BBC WM (from 1:58.58).