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Why the growing complexity of modern families mean inheritance disputes are on the rise

Second marriages, blended families, children from more than one relationship - the complex structural nature of many modern families means it has never been more important to make a Will to avoid problems after you die.

Sadly, inheritance disputes can rip families apart. Bitter and expensive conflict can ensue when a loved one either hasn't made a Will or the Will doesn't make it clear who is to get what or misses out someone who thinks they have received a verbal promise to inherit.

Growing problem

Inheritance disputes between family members over assets are on the rise. Every year, thousands of cases go through the county courts, the forum of choice for most contentious probate claims, and there has also been a steep increase in the number of claims brought in the High Court.

Most Will disputes, however, are settled before they get to the courtroom after the parties involved agree to engage in a process of negotiation or mediation. This means that both the emotional and financial costs of going to court can be avoided.

Mediation is something actively encouraged by the courts and Wards Solicitors offers a specialist mediation service.

What is behind the increase in cases?

Society is changing and this is undoubtedly playing a part in the escalating number of disputed Will cases, as some key facts and figures show:

  • Divorce rates are going down but marriage rates for heterosexual couples have fallen to an all-time low;
  • More older people are getting married; often for the second time;
  • Marriages between same sex couples accounted for 2.6 per cent of ceremonies in 2015;
  • The average length of a marriage is 12 years and around half of all divorces involve children under 16;
  • The popularity of civil partnerships, recently extended to mixed sex couples, is rising;
  • Cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing, currently 3.3 million in the UK.

In addition, the relentless rise of property prices in some parts of the UK means estates are getting larger and are therefore seen by claimants as worth contesting.

High profile cases like Ilott v Mitson - which saw the Supreme Court overturn a six figure sum awarded to a woman cut out of her mother's Will after three charities appealed the decision - has also helped to clarify the law in this area, confirming that claims can be brought and giving helpful indications of the sort of considerations that should be looked at when bringing a claim.

Contesting a Will

Every month, across the UK, more than 13,500 people use the internet to search for terms relating to this subject. Bearing in mind the number of people wanting to know more about contesting a Will, we have prepared three specific legal guides to help:

Time is of the essence

It is key to remember that if you think you do have a reason to make a claim you should take legal advice as soon as possible for a number of key reasons:

  • In relation to some grounds for contesting a Will, there is a time limit of six months to make a claim from the date the Grant of Probate was obtained;
  • You may have several grounds to make a claim and some may have a higher chance of success than others or may be easier to prove. A solicitor can help you identify these;
  • You may need to take preventative legal action to maximise your chances of success. For example, you may need a solicitor to apply for a 'caveat' which prevents the assets of the estate being distributed until the dispute is settled.

For help and advice about contesting a Will, please contact Wards Solicitors' Probate Disputes team. Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is recommended in the Legal 500 guide for 2019 as a leading individual for contentious trust probate work and described as 'diligent and persistent, skilled and effective'.

For guidance on making or updating a Will, please contact our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team, also singled out for praise in the latest Legal 500 guide and now one of the largest departments in the South West.