The rise of Will disputes – and how to avoid them

The rise in numbers of “complex families” has triggered more disputes over inheritance.

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New data reveals that the number of disputes over Wills being heard by the High Court has risen from 384 in 2022 to 391 in 2023, as more families contest their inheritances.

Last year saw an increase in contentious probate disputes, with 122 cases compared to 117 in 2022. These disputes often centred around the validity, or distribution of a Will. Another 182 cases in the High Court related to the provision for dependants, where individuals claimed that their financial dependence on the deceased entitled them to a larger share of the estate.

The growth in more “complex” family structures is leading to a greater number of disputes over Wills – for example where children from first and second marriages disagree over how their shared parent’s estate is divided.

Disputes over Wills have also become more commonplace in the UK due to the rising value of estates. Data from HMRC shows that 13,400 people died in 2020/21 leaving assets worth more than £1 million, a 120% increase from just 6,100 people in 2010/11.  This surge in property values means people who previously considered themselves of relatively modest means are now leaving behind substantial estates, contributing to the rise in inheritance disputes.   

People with children from different marriages are at a higher risk of disputes among their beneficiaries over their Wills. If you fall into this category, you should consider seeking advice from an expert lawyer to discuss your wealth distribution preferences and ensure your Will effectively reflects your wishes and current circumstances. Some adult children can be tempted into litigation over a Will where they have not been left what they feel they deserve, this litigation in turn can lead to the value of an estate being rapidly diminished. A lawyer can help you make your wishes clear and mitigate the risk of your heirs disputing the estate.

  1. Be prepared: Talk to your family in advance about your plans for your Will. It can often be the ‘nasty surprise’ of the contents of a Will that can lead to disputes after your death.
  2. Leave a paper trail: To prevent your Will being disputed in court, it is a good idea to leave a written statement with your lawyer explaining your reasoning.
  3. Choose the right executor: Pick executors who understand what you want and work well together as disputes can lead to an increase in legal fees.
  4. Keep your Will up to date: Any life changes such as births, deaths and significant financial developments, should be triggers for you to sit down with your solicitor and adapt your Will accordingly.

If you’re not sure whether your Will still accurately reflects your wishes and current circumstances, our specialist private client solicitors can help you review and ensure your Will is still aligned with your wishes.

To discuss your requirements, please contact our Private Client team today for an initial no-obligation consultation.

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The rise in numbers of “complex families” has triggered more disputes over inheritance.

The rise of Will disputes – and how to avoid them

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