Surge in inheritance disputes strains families and courts in England and Wales

In England and Wales, inheritance disputes are reaching record levels, with specialist lawyers estimating around 10,000 cases annually, as reported by The Guardian.

The year 2021-22 saw 195 cases go to trial, a significant increase from 145 in 2017. This rise is attributed to the wealthy baby boomer generation passing on, more second marriages resulting in disinherited stepchildren, and an increase in dementia cases leading to questions over the validity of wills.

The pandemic’s shift to executing wills via video link and the current cost of living crisis are also contributing factors, pushing more individuals to challenge wills out of financial necessity. Legal professionals like Paul Grimwood of IBB Law have noted a doubling in such cases over three years, attributing this to greater public awareness and the influence of media on high-profile inheritance disputes.

The expansion in legal teams specialising in wills, trusts, and probate disputes is evident, with firms like Irwin Mitchell increasing their staff tenfold over a decade. This comes as inheritance tax receipts are predicted to hit a record £7.5 billion this financial year.

The 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act allows for a wide range of relatives and dependents to contest wills if they feel reasonable financial provision hasn’t been made for them. Disputes often involve complex family dynamics and can result in significant legal costs, sometimes eroding much of the inheritance.

Cases like Holly McIntosh’s, who contested her stepmother’s claim to her father’s assets, highlight the emotional and financial toll these disputes take on families, often leading to estrangement and questioning the value of the contested amounts after legal expenses.

Professionals in the field stress the emotional weight of these disputes on clients, with increasing family complexity and concerns over the mental capacity of the will maker at the time of writing contributing to the rise in cases. Legal experts suggest that capacity assessments at the time of will creation could prevent such disputes.

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