According to the latest IRN Research report, UK Wills, Probate & Trusts Market 2022: Market Trends, the wills, trusts and probate market passed the £2.0 bn mark for the first time in 2021, and although fragmented, is a market that is growing. Research also finds that the sector is still populated by thousands of mainly small providers, many of which are unregulated.
Alongside the growth of related services to the wills, trusts and probate market such as funeral planning, future care planning, and bereavement services, enquiries for advice on contentious wills, probate and trusts are on the up. Probate services now account for the highest industry market share at 21.2%, closely followed by estate management at 20.6%.
The overall market value of the wills, trusts and probate sector is forecast to increase by 5.2% in 2022 and between 2021 and 2025 CAGR is forecast at 4.1%.
One of the primary factors driving this fast pace of growth is thought to be the ageing of the UK population: in 2021 31.6% of the UK population was 55 or over and this will increase to 33.2% by 2026. In addition, higher numbers of deaths in recent years is driving demand for probate and estate administration services and, sadly, numbers increased significantly in 2020 as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the number of deaths were 614,114, an increase of 15.7% on 2019. Deaths fell below 600,000 in 2021 but the annual total is still the second highest this century.
Probate numbers generally follow trends in the number of deaths, and annual deaths in 2020 were at the highest level this century. Clearly, says the IRN report, the pandemic was at its height in 2020 leading to high death numbers and a significant increase in total grants of representation issued. They increased by 8% on 2019 to 256,617and figures up to end-September 2021 show numbers increasing even more by 11% on the same period in 2020.
The report also found that the number of firms in England and Wales offering advice for contentious wills, probate and trusts has more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, and eight out of 10 firms (80%) are confident about the year ahead and are expecting increased workloads; a percentage that has increased year-on-year since 2016.
Reasons for increased demand for probate and wills services, and indeed further increased workloads in contentious wills, probate and trusts, are thought to be largely due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, a person may have died intestate in the pandemic leading to more complex and contentious cases. But, there are also likely to be more challenges against the validity of some video wills as a result of failures to follow the correct procedures when writing wills during the pandemic. This may be especially true for DIY wills completed online. Experts are also concerned that wills witnessed via video increase the chances of fraud or undue influences. All of which could lead to more contentions and potentially more complex cases for legal advisors.
Martin P Holdsworth, Founder and Director of specialist contentious wills and probate firm IDR Law commented:
“This is perhaps the most telling indication I can give you of the growth in claims we are seeing and dealing with is that we expanded from 8 to 17 contentious probate lawyers in the last 6 months… Individuals generally are far more reliant on an anticipated inheritance and as a result, much more likely to bring a claim if they don’t receive it. My worry here is that whilst the number of law firms advertising for this work may have doubled, the quality of the representation (not just advice) being given is incredibly varied – as many unhappy clients and their families out there will testify!”
Jade Gani, Regional Director of SFE, the membership organisation for specialist solicitors who support older and vulnerable people, says:
“As the number of deaths continue to rise, so do the number of required Grants of Probate. This has meant that Private Client practices across the UK are more in demand, with plenty of firms actively recruiting in this growing field. It seems inevitably then, that the number of contentious probate matters are also on the increase too.
The sector has responded well to this with more firms than ever offering specialist contentious probate services. As the industry adjusts to technological advances and awareness within the public regarding claims increases, we can expect this trend to continue for long into future. It’s a challenging but exciting time to work in Private Client.”