Today’s Wills and Probate sat down with Martin P Holdsworth, Founder and Director of specialist contentious wills and probate firm IDR Law, to discuss the recent increase in contentious probate cases, IDR Law’s newest innovation – the IDR Network (IDRN) and Martin’s take on the future of the contentious probate industry.
Today’s Wills and Probate: A recent report has shown that contested probate cases in England and Wales rose in 2019 and 2020, when there were 192 contested wills, the highest number ever recorded. In 2019, cases were 50% higher than in 2018 and the trend is expected to continue. Has IDR Law noticed an increase in disputes?
Martin P Holdsworth: I founded IDR Law in 2017 from a standing start. Less than five years later, we have dealt with over 3,000 enquiries, have a team of 21 (17 of which are contentious probate lawyers at various levels) and operate out of three offices. I think it is fair to say that we have seen an increase in work over that period!
Today’s Wills and Probate: Why do you think that contentious wills and probate cases are on the rise so rapidly? Do you think that the unregulated sector has had an impact on the increase in cases?
Martin P Holdsworth: I read the data from the 2022 Report with interest. I have said for several years now that I feared that a “perfect storm” was brewing for the growth in the volume of family estates that would become embroiled in disputes. Even before the COVID pandemic hit, the combination of increased property values, increased dementia rates, an ongoing lack of actual wills and testamentary planning set within a society becoming more litigious and perhaps most telling, an increase in the reliance of children receiving an inheritance to fund retirement/discharge debts has seen an upward trend in claims being brought. Overlay this background with the simple fact that a pandemic means more deaths and there is no surprise that the upward trend steepens as a consequence – it is a mathematical certainty!
The unregulated part of the sector has always had a part to play with claims. More claims and problems arise where families have received poor and/or incorrect advice. To be fair, that happens across the wills sector – we have seen terrible will drafting from will writers and solicitors alike. There is absolutely no substitute for experience and qualifications and I would always recommend will drafters who have both – they exist in good quality law firms and also good quality will writing organisations.
Today’s Wills and Probate: IDR Law has recently launched IDRN, a network that provides practitioners with the latest information, support and training when it comes to dealing with inheritance disputes – can you explain why IDRN was launched, and why now?
Martin P Holdsworth: Unlike virtually all our competition, we receive the vast majority of client referrals from other professional organisations in the sector (as opposed to directly through PPC campaigns or the like). As a consequence, we have a much closer relationship with our referrers – we work on cases in tandem with them, we reciprocate with referrals of non-contentious probate work and we offer bespoke training for their teams. As our referral network grew, we could see that we needed to make everything we had to offer available to all of our refers all of the time – the IDRN was a way of bringing together all the direct help to them in one place along with links and commentaries on other services/tech/developments that we have become aware of whilst we operated in the middle of the sector.
The concept was developed a couple of years ago and has taken some time to build into its current form.
Today’s Wills and Probate: What are the main benefits of the IDRN service for practitioners?
Martin P Holdsworth: The IDRN is a one stop (free) shop for all things wills and probate – it is designed for general browsing or for specific help for anyone dealing with non-contentious matters for families. It is split into five main sections
- Ask the Experts is a smorgasbord of information setting out case studies, commentaries, specific campaigns we are running, Q&As gleaned from all our enquiries, etc;
- Guides and Resources has downloadable guides to specific areas of wills and probate – an intestacy Remembrall, Larke & Nugus requests, Insolvent estates and all our general guides;
- Links and explanations about Legal Tech solutions including our very own 1975 ACT online claim checker;
- The IDR “university”, the IDRU – a sample set of training guides, webinars and information taken from our own internal expansive IDRU training here at IDR Law; and finally
- Sector Spotlight – where we come across companies offering services/products that have impressed us and we have engaged with them to secure discounts for our IDRN members!
Today’s Wills and Probate: What would you say are the most common issues that IDRN users seek advice on?
Martin P Holdsworth: The most common questions change from time to time but currently we are getting quite a few repeated enquiries about what to do if an estate administration is being deliberately delayed, also where to actually find a will if it cannot be found immediately is a common one. A consistent request concerns help seeing whether anything can be done to either add in or cut out a particular beneficiary to an estate.
Today’s Wills and Probate: Could you tell us more about the “Ask the Experts” feature? Do users simply submit queries to be answered?
Martin P Holdsworth: We have dealt with over 3,000 enquiries over the last five years – each one was logged and dealt with in a helpful, proactive way – giving the referred client guidance on what we think they should do. Over two thirds of those clients never actually needed our retained help – the guidance we gave was enough to set them straight, at no cost to them. We seek to deliver a great service every case, every time. Having retained all these Q&A interactions, we are in the process of converting them into what we have described as our IDR Law Almanack – each question has an answer, some pointers and importantly a summary of when that problem turns into something that they will need our help to resolve. Factsheets are downloadable here too. All of this is freely available to our IDRN members. The IDRN is designed to be a living thing so any new questions asked/that we come across will be added to the IDR Law Almanack!
Today’s Wills and Probate: If a practitioner is interested in joining IDRN as an expert or adviser could that be arranged?
Martin P Holdsworth: The advantage of a law firm that deals with just one area of law is that we only recruit specialists and have a training system in place for everyone that is exceptional (the IDRU). It does mean that with well over 100 years of experience and several ACTAPS members across the team, we pretty much have all things contentious probate covered. However – we are very interested to hear from members if they have come across a service or organisation that offers services that other IDRN members might be interested in knowing about. Our Sector Spotlight has a growing list of companies that fit into this description – we take no commission from these organisations although we do ask that they provide some kind of benefit or discount to our IDRN members that actually use them.
Today’s Wills and Probate: Finally, according to a recent IRN report, Probate services now account for the highest wills, trusts and probate industry market share at 21.2%, and the overall market value of the sector is forecast to increase by 5.2% in 2022. What are your predictions for the industry? Is there anything that practitioners need to be aware of?
Martin P Holdsworth: The wills and probate sector still does feel like the wild west at times – companies come and go and law firms jog along as they always have. Legal tech has speeded up processes so that simple estate planning is now possible 24/7 and yet the number of people making wills has never really increased. The human mind does not rest comfortably with the thought of its own death. We approach it tangentially, often when triggered by some proximate morbid event, but even then our mind moves on very quickly. Estate planning is simply not a priority for most of us and only in death does the mess created by its absence become clear. With one in three now relying on an inheritance to fund retirement or pay off lifetime debt, the probate claims will keep on coming. For practitioners in our sector, I would suggest that will files are kept safe and secure, that those offering probate embrace legaltech to improve their processes and for those dealing with the inevitable disputes to get properly qualified in terms of experience and know-how.