London-based law firm Wedlake Bell says the number of disputes over wills has "increased threefold" since 2004.

"As personal wealth has swelled in value, the assets left in wills and trusts have become all the more worth fighting for," said Fay Copeland, head of the firm's contentious trusts and probate team.

According to research by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, the number of high-net-worth individuals in the UK - those who hold financial assets of 500,000 or more, excluding their main residence – has grown by over 10 per cent in the past two years. Also, increasingly complex family structures and higher divorce rates have prompted more challenges to the terms of individual wills.

"This all helps cloud the issue of who should get what. Potential beneficiaries such as exspouses ... often feel they have competing claims or have been treated unfairly," Ms Copeland said. "With several recent high-profile cases hitting the headlines and a more litigious climate, people are now more inclined to try to recover what they feel they are due."

The "more litigious climate" also poses a risk to people appointed as executors of the will, the law firm added. It said it has seen an increasing willingness among beneficiaries to sue executors for negligence when distributing the assets of the deceased according to the terms of the will.

Published in the Independent on Sunday, 31 August 2008