Today’s Financial Times reports a sharp rise in the number of probate disputes heard by the High Court in 2014. The number of cases that reached the court in 2014 are almost a double that from the previous year. The Financial Times report reflects our experience that this is only the tip of the iceberg, in that only a very small proportion of contentious probate cases get to the court. Majority is settled long before they reach that stage.
Contentious probate is an area of law that may otherwise be described as inheritance disputes. It covers disputes over validity of wills, claims for greater inheritance and disputes with those administering the estate (Personal Representatives called Executors or Administrators).
Much of the rise on claims stems from the rise in property prices. Many of us have not provided sufficiently for our retirement and so rely on inheritance more. For people in their 40s and 50s, expected to live much longer than their parents’ generation, inheritance is often the only way to make provision for themselves for their older days. For their children, inheritance is often the only way to step onto the property ladder at all.
Unfortunately, contentious probate is an area of law which people find much harder to litigate on them own. Not only is the procedure very technical, but also the law is complex. Furthermore, most people do need support as if an argument over a legacy erupts when one is bereaved, old wounds can open up. Arguments with close family become heated and the suffering and emotions that run high make it nearly impossible to sit down and have a sensible conversation. I once had a client who was embroiled in a dispute over inheritance with his brother. My client had a particular grudge against his brother which was somewhat disproportional to what had happened in the case. He explained to me however that when they were little, their mum used to give them the shopping change, so they could buy sweets. The brother, being a few years older was in charge of the purse and kept most of the sweets. The brothers had not spoken about it for years. Sadly the death of their mother opened up the Pandora box. “Those sweets will cost him thousands of pounds today”, my client told me. Sadly, they did.