Disputed Wills at an all-time high!

A record number of inheritance disputes are reaching the High Court despite rising court costs and the risk involved with losing a case. The number of cases brought to the High Court under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act 1975 has risen by over 700% between 2005 and 2015. But this is only the tip of the iceberg when we consider the number of cases that would have been settled out of court or in County Court.

Modern family dynamics are causing more friction. It is estimated that around six million people co-habit in the UK, with this being the fastest growing type of family. Studies show that assumptions are made surrounding inheritance, such as the belief in ‘common law marriage’. Two thirds of adults have never made a Will, many of whom will be cohabitees living in ‘blended-families’ (where partners have children from previous relationships). It is not a surprise that a growing change in family structure correlates with the rise in inheritance disputes.

Disputes can also arise when no Will has been left and those closest to the deceased are not necessarily those entitled under the Law of Intestacy. For example, a life-long friend would lose out under intestacy (dying without a Will in place) and the nearest entitled blood relative may be a distant cousin. Another, increasingly common reason for disappointed potential beneficiaries is when an existing Will has become invalid due to a change in circumstances i.e. a marriage or a previous death. The people expecting to benefit may not do so as the Will may have been revoked unintentionally and the deceased has died ‘intestate’ meaning the Law of Intestacy applies instead of the Will.

A further issue arises with many people living longer and a reported 850,000 estimated to be living with dementia in the UK. This has led to increased challenges to Wills on the grounds of mental capacity, which illustrates the importance of making a Will early in life.

In summary, the increasing number of Will disputes and claims by disinherited children underline the importance of writing a clear, unambiguous Will and keeping it under review.

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