Rise in Contested Wills and Inheritance Disputes

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Contested Wills Solicitor, Lee Dawkins, reports on the increasing number of contested probate claims, which he says is mirrored by Slee Blackwell’s own growing contentious probate department.

Contesting a Will has never been more common. The Independent newspaper has reported that there has been a 700% increase over the last 5 years in the number of cases commenced in the High Court in London involving a contested Will.

Reviewing the possible causes of this legacy litigation boom the paper speculates that the recession is a major factor. The value of assets, including property, has fallen over the last few years and this has lead to family disputes erupting as members discover that their legacy is less than they had anticipated.

More complex family arrangements are another contributing factor. Re-marriages are on the increase and step-families are now common place. This is a fertile breeding ground for family disputes and challenges to Wills.

The newspaper article refers to the case of ‘Igor Ustinov’, son of the late actor, Peter Ustinov. He has been pursuing a contested probate case involving his father’s estate for many years, and now appears to be on the brink of bankruptcy. A court has declared that Peter Ustinov died intestate and has refused to admit to probate a document written in pencil in 1968.

Lee Dawkins, Slee Blackwell’s Contentious Probate Partner, confirms that the statistics reported by the Independent mirrors his own firm’s experiences:

“Over the last few years we have witnessed a significant growth in the number of contested probate cases we deal with.

People are far more likely these days to challenge a Will on the grounds of lack of capacity or undue influence than they previously ever were. We have also seen an increasing trend in the number of Inheritance Act claims made by people who feel that inadequate financial provision has been made for them by a Will or intestacy”.

The increased volume of contested probate cases handled by Slee Blackwell can be partly explained by socio-economic factors; the diversity of family structures and the credit crunch in particular. However, our own success in this area of law has been fuelled by a recognition that Slee Blackwell are now one of the leading firms in contentious probate disputes in the UK. We have always enjoyed a loyal local following from clients based in Devon and Somerset, but over the last few years the geographical spread of our caseload has taken us to all corners of the country. We now receive enquiries on a daily basis from people throughout England and Wales seeking advice on challenging a Will or bringing an Inheritance claim.

He added:-

“There are no signs that the legacy litigation boom is slowing down. Our growing team of contentious probate lawyers is gearing up to cope with an even larger number of contested will claims and inheritance disputes over the next 12 months”.

Slee Blackwell operates a free Helpline. Whether you are in Devon or Somerset or are from further afield you can call us on 0808 139 1606 or email Lee Dawkins direct at [email protected]

Alternatively, if you are involved in an Inheritance Dispute or contested Will claim then you can call in and see us at one of our offices. Our Contentious Probate Team has specialists based at Barnstaple, in Devon, and Taunton, in Somerset. We offer a number of funding options, including no win, no fee and fixed fees.