The Law Society Gazette has recently reported that claims for mishandling a deceased's estate have more than tripled over the last year, according to figures released by the High Court.
According to the figures quoted by the Gazette, 261 more claims for breach of fiduciary duty were lodged in 2013 in the Chancery Division than in 2012. The rise has been attributed as a consequence of the increased use of acquaintances or family members as "DIY" executors and trustees (where there is an increased chance of assets being incorrectly or fraudulently distributed) rather than instructing solicitors.
The preference to avoid instructing solicitors so as to cut the cost of documenting the wishes of an individual following their death will inevitably result in additional claims as to what that person intended and how their estate is to be distributed – with contested probate claims also reported to be on the rise. Solicitors will, particularly when asked to revisit or revise such homemade wills, need to remain alert to the potential pit-falls of the documents – whilst also ensuring that they do not get drawn in to what can be lengthy (and often costly) proceedings arising between disappointed family members and beneficiaries.