Many people assume that when somebody makes a will, that will is final and they are stuck with its contents whether they like it or not. That is not necessarily the case, however, and Court statistics show that more and more people are beginning to challenge wills.
The reasons for disputing a will
There are several reasons why a disappointed beneficiary or family member might want to challenge a will. One of those reasons is that the will may have failed to leave reasonable financial provision for somebody.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain individuals such as spouses, children (including adult children) and cohabitees might be able to make a claim if the will fails to leave them with reasonable financial provision.
The number of those claims has increased substantially over the last decade. In the High Court in London, only 81 claims under the Act were brought, yet the latest statistics show that 158 claims were brought in 2016. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues when the 2017 data is released at the start of September.
Disputes over assets and trusts
Other wills and estates disputes have also seen increases in the number of claims. Disputes regarding assets held in trusts have increased from 86 claims in 2010 to 201 claims in 2016. A typical example of a trust dispute might be where a will gives a surviving spouse the right to live in the matrimonial home for the rest of their life, and there is a falling out with the children of the deceased, who could be children from a previous relationship for example.
These numbers are only from the High Court in London; other Courts also deal with probate claims so there are likely to be many hundreds more claims that statistics do not cover.
Why are probate disputes increasing?
When looking at why there have been increases in the number of will disputes, there are several factors which often explain why a dispute has arisen.
- First, the modern family set-up is increasing more diverse than it historically has been. With the rise in second marriages, there is often a situation where a second spouse and the children from a previous marriage both expect to benefit under the estate. When this does not happen, dispute can often arise;
- The increase in life expectancy means that people are making wills, or changing them, at an older age. This can lead to concerns that the testator may have been suffering from an illness that meant that they did not have mental capacity to make their will;
- The increase in the property prices means that people’s estates are worth more than they historically have been, which means that there is more money at stake and a greater likelihood of dispute.
What this means for you
There are two key messages to come out of the increase in probate disputes.
The first is to make a will with a reputable legal adviser. They can run through your own personal situation and explore options to try and reduce the risk of conflict after you have died.
The second message is that if you have a dispute regarding a will, you are far from alone! It is recommended that you seek prompt legal advice in order to explore your options.