There has been a marked increase in the number of Will disputes over the past ten years. Each year, more and more contentious probate matters have been heard by the High Court and this does not include the many disputes which are settled before reaching Court.
It is possible that we are becoming a more litigious society, but there are also a number of factors which we believe have contributed to this apparent rise.
Will drafting was once the preserve of solicitors, but there are now many home-made Will writing services available. These services are attractive, as the costs are typically lower than instructing a solicitor. However, home-made Wills are more prone to being contested. There are likely to be stronger questions concerning whether the correct Will execution formalities have been complied with, together with the Testator’s ability to know and understand the contents of their Will, when a legal expert was not involved in the Will drafting process and there are no records evidencing that the appropriate checks and safeguards were carried out.
Additionally, DIY Wills are often not drafted with sufficient legal clarity, which can lead to disputes as to their meaning and who has the right to inherit.
A changing society
There has been an increase in the number of people entering second marriages. This often leads to tension between the interests of the second spouse and the children from the testator’s previous marriage.
There has also been a rise in co-habiting couples who are not married. If one of the couple dies without making a Will, it will often be necessary for the surviving partner to consider bringing an inheritance claim for maintenance, as there is no provision for a non-married partner under the intestacy rules.
These complex family structures and competing interests, often lead to a dispute concerning the distribution of the deceased’s estate.
Generational shift Due to the escalation of house prices, fewer young people are able to afford their own home nowadays. It is often the case that their parents’ estates contain property, which is now worth a considerable amount. This equity gap between the generations, means that some children are reliant on inheriting from their parents and there is often a lot at stake as to how an estate is distributed. This can lead to disputes, when people are disappointed with what they are to receive under a Will.
Exposure to knowledge
We live in the “Information Age” where a wealth of information is available at the touch of a button. Thanks to this, people have a greater awareness of the law and the possibility of bringing a Will challenge than they might have done several years ago.
There have been a number of high-profile cases reported in the media in recent years, which have sparked interest in and an awareness of Will disputes. For example, the case of Illot v Mitson, in which the deceased’s adult daughter was awarded a capital sum, despite having been deliberately excluded from her mother’s Will, encouraged many adult children to bring claims against a parent’s estate.