New data has shown the area of contentious wills, trusts, and probate has grown to such an extent over the last four years that the number of law firms offering advice on these issues has more than doubled since 2018.
Specifically, the number of firms offering contentious probate services has increased from 116 in October 2018 to 268 in October 2022. For disputed wills, there’s been an increase from 115 firms to 250 firms in the same period, and for disputed trusts an increase from 73 to 166 since 2018.
IRN Legal Reports, who conducted the research, mooted several factors which may explain the increase. Alongside poorly drafted wills, other factors include more complex family structures, the increase in re-marriages, blended families, and cohabitation.
There has also been a substantial increase in property wealth this century and disagreements over the distribution of this wealth after death have grown.
IRN also said that during Covid there will be some who rushed to make a will, adding that this could have led to more poorly drafted wills open to dispute particularly if these wills were drafted quickly by individuals with no professional help. Others may still have an old will prepared many years ago with no updates or amendments to reflect personal and financial changes. There were also unexpected deaths during Covid leading to more disputes.
Finally, adults are generally living longer and for wills that are created at the end of someone’s life, while they are subject to illness, the issue of testamentary capacity arises.
The rise in those advising on disputes is reflected in the number of cases being heard. In 2021, the High Court of the Chancery Division dealt with 105 disputed probate cases increasing from 68 in 2020 and 72 in 2019.
In April 2022, IBB Solicitors published its Inheritance Dispute Report 2022 based on responses from 1,000 UK adults who had been involved in a will, inheritance, or probate dispute over the past 10 years. Key findings from the research include:
- Inheritance disputes among siblings are the most common form of dispute. Individuals are more likely to experience a dispute in relation to their father’s will than any other relation.
- One in four who disputed their inheritance said it was because the deceased was coerced.
- 47% of survey respondents were set to inherit between £50,000 and £1 million.
- The average amount recovered from will, inheritance, or probate disputes was around £190,000.
- Almost 40% of people die with debts.
- One in three disputes initiated by non-family claimants were said to be “colleagues” of the deceased.
- Men are 11% more likely to be involved in an inheritance dispute than women. Men are likely to inherit more than women in a will.
Later in 2022, IBB Solicitors published a second report looking at regional differences regarding inheritance disputes.
Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of residents who have been involved in two will disputes in the past 10 years (48%).
The West Midlands has the highest average value of inheritances in the UK (£283,360.50). The East Midlands has the lowest average value of inheritances in the UK (£52,787.80).
The North West is the region with the highest percentage of people spending more than £50,001 on legal fees (8%).
The West Midlands, the North West, the South West, and London are the four regions in the UK where the average inheritance is significantly higher than the remainder: West Midlands – £283,360.50; North West – £242,376.90; South West – £216,319.90; London – £202,902.