The past few years have seen a marked increase in contentious probate claims as the number of disputes arising from wills and the administration of estates has risen steadily.

According to figures from the UK Wills, Probate & Trusts Market Report 2022, produced by IRN Research, the value of the wills, trusts and probate market topped £2bn for the first time in 2021. This trend is expected to continue over the next few years, with the market expected to reach a value of £2.4bn by 2025.

A key part of this increase is down to probate disputes, with contentious work on the rise. IRN’s research showed that work in the contentious wills, trusts and probate sector increased by 4.3% in 2021 and is expected to continue to rise by an average of 4% year on year.

In this blog, Larcomes Contentious Probate team considers the drivers behind the increase in probate claims and looks at what you can do to ensure your wishes are watertight.

What is a contentious probate claim?

Contentious probate is any dispute relating to the administration of a deceased person’s estate. Typical claims involve disputes over the interpretation of a will, questions over the validity of a will, a dispute between executors or beneficiaries, or a dispute over the value of assets.

To learn more about contentious probate and some common challenges to a will, you can read our previous blog by clicking here.

Why has there been an increase in the number of claims?

Several factors can be attributed to the rise in contentious probate cases. These include:

  • Higher death rate. The global Covid pandemic pushed up the death rate in 2020 to 607,922, the second highest since 1838. More deaths mean more potential claims.
  • Ageing population. The Census 2021 shows that there are more people than ever before in older age groups. Over 11 million people – 18.6% of the total population – were aged 65 years or older, compared with 16.4% at the time of the previous census in 2011. In the next 25 years, the number of people older than 85 will double to 2.6 million.
  • More mental capacity issues. An ageing population contributes to a higher prevalence of mental capacity issues. There are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK. This number is expected to rise sharply in the coming years.
  • Financial dependence. The rising cost of living is making it more difficult for people to become financially independent, and many are living with their parents for longer. This shift can lead to changes in parents’ wills or more challenges based on the care and provision provided.
  • Generational wealth. ‘Baby Boomers’ (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) make up around 20% of the population in the UK and this sector of society is one of the most powerful and wealthiest demographics. It is estimated that around £5.5 trillion worth of assets will pass from the Baby Boomer generation in inheritance between now and 2050.
  • Property prices. The value of property has increased considerably over the years. While the increase has been particularly marked in the capital (average house prices in London have risen from around £25,000 in 1980 to £532,212 in February 2023), other areas have also increased in value. Rising values have resulted in more people willing to challenge estates.
  • Greater awareness. More coverage in the press of inheritance disputes has resulted in increased exposure and a heightened readiness among the general population to dispute a will.
  • Homemade and DIY wills. An increase in DIY and poorly drafted wills, particularly during the Covid pandemic, has opened the door to more disputes.

What can you do to reduce the chances of a will dispute?

You can do several things to ensure that your will is binding and accurately reflects your wishes to reduce the chances of a future claim. These include:

  • Seek advice from a specialist solicitor. An experienced solicitor will draft your will to be clear and legally binding and less open to misinterpretation later on.
  • Review your arrangements. It is good practice to review your will regularly (every five to ten years or so) to ensure it reflects your situation and is up to date.
  • Consider your testamentary capacity. Any doubts over whether a person is of sound mind when making their will can leave their estate open to dispute further down the line. Elderly people, or those who are in the early stages of dementia, might particularly need to take additional precautions, such as obtaining certification of mental capacity from a medical professional. An experienced solicitor can advise on the appropriate measures you need to put in place.
  • Protect yourself from any potential Inheritance Act claims. If you plan to leave a close family member out of your will, a solicitor will advise you on the extra precautions you might need to take. The Inheritance Act 1975 gives certain individuals the right to make a claim against your estate if you haven’t provided for them in your will.
  • Choose executors carefully. Most people appoint at least two executors to administer their estate. You need to choose carefully to minimise the chances of any potential disputes or disagreements. Some people consider appointing a professional executor, such as a solicitor, to undertake this role.
  • Destroy any old wills. Make sure that you properly destroy any copies of old wills you may have and that your family knows where your most up-to-date will is stored.
  • Speak to your family. Being upfront about your will while you can discuss your wishes with family members can save a lot of time, effort and money later on.

Specialist Will Dispute Solicitors

At Larcomes, we understand that disputes involving wills, or other inheritance issues, are very emotional and difficult times. We can help guide you through the process in a professional, empathetic and sensitive manner.

Our experienced Litigation team works in close association with our Private Client department, bringing together a unique combination of expert knowledge in the highly specialised field of Contentious Probate and Inheritance Disputes.

Contact us today if you need advice in relation to a contested probate, disputed will or inheritance disputes. This is a highly complex area of law and our team at Larcomes can provide you with clear, up-to-date, professional advice.

To speak with one of our team, please contact us on 023 9244 8100.

Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice. It is for general guidance only, and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.