Exponential rise in London property prices leads to large increase in contentious probate work

Exponential rise in London property prices leads to large increase in contentious probate work

Law firm Bishop & Sewell LLP has reported a large rise in the volume of contentious probate work, with the firm attributing the increase to the exponential growth in London property prices over recent decades, which it says may have made it more attractive for claimants to contest probate.

Rachel Waller, Partner at Bishop & Sewell, said:

Over recent years, we have seen a large increase in disputes relating to the administration of estates, with a great deal of that growth coming from clients in and around London.

A key driver appears to have been the exponential growth of house prices in London over recent decades. People who bought properties many years ago, such as under the Right to Buy scheme, are now coming to the end of their lives and finding that the value of their property has appreciated dramatically.

For example, data from the Land Registry shows average house prices in London have risen from around £25,000 in 1980 to over £520,000 by December 2021, an increase of nearly 2,000%, while more than 300,000 homes in the capital are now valued at £1 million or more.

However, not all people whose property has increased in value in this way are realising the need for effective estate planning and, unfortunately, we have seen a rise in disputes over wills and inheritance. This happens particularly where family members feel aggrieved that they have not have been included in the deceased’s will but may feel they have a valid claim to a share of deceased’s assets and estate, or that the will does not reflect what they believe were the true wishes of the deceased.

We estimate that due to demographic changes in the capital, the high volume of contentious probate work will continue for some time, as properties of vastly increased value become lucrative assets in estates.

Often where there is a dispute about the validity of a will, contentious probate claims involve very sensitive issues, and can be rooted in long-standing family disputes. However, there are several steps that can be taken when planning how to distribute one’s estate after death in order to reduce the likelihood of a dispute arising.  

Rachel concluded:

A will prepared by a specialist solicitor should ensure that the document is legally binding, and they will also be able to provide advice about wider concerns relating to estate planning. However, it is also advisable to speak to family members about a person’s intentions, to ensure they are forewarned and to help deal with any grievances as they may arise, and while the person making the will is still able to hear their concerns.”

Jamie Lennox