A recent report by the Times has shown that court cases relating to disputed wills have increased by over 34% since 2017 and by more than 140% in the past decade. However, these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt as this only represents the disputes that end up in court whereas the majority of disputes that arise are settled before that point. It is therefore likely that the actual number of disputes is significantly higher.
Given the increasing cost of living, it is perhaps not surprising that inheritance disputes are becoming more common. It is also thought that complex family structures including stepfamilies and remarriages and the increase in asset prices have contributed to the increase in these disputes. Some commentators have also pointed towards the prevalence of dementia as family members accuse one another of having taken advantage of their recently deceased family members by encouraging them to change their wills to cut out, or significantly disadvantage particular people.
There has also been an increase in claims from cohabitees. Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 – the legislation governing these disputes – cohabitees do not have the same rights to inheritance as those who are married or in a civil partnership. Instead ,the legislation requires them to make a claim showing why they should receive “reasonable financial provision” from the deceased’s estate. Many of the disputes in relation to cohabitees are thought to come down to a lack of understanding and awareness among unmarried couples as to their rights in relation to the estate assets.
Whilst it is not possible to prevent any claims whatsoever, it is possible to try and mitigate these disputes with careful and considered estate planning. Please get in touch with a member of our Wealth Management and Taxation Team on 01494 521301 if you require assistance with this.
If you believe that you may have a claim against someone’s estate, please contact Kezia Brown by email or on 01494 893504.