Challenged wills on the rise

Forbes Solicitors has revealed a rising number of challenged wills, caused by financial pressures, an ageing population and more complex family structures.

Ben Wilson Forbes

Disputed wills expert Ben Wilson, an associate solicitor at Forbes, said the number of claims in the High Court for financial provision under the Inheritance Act rose by 80 per cent from 2013 to 2016, with the number of cases going from 88 in 2013 to 104 in 2014, 116 in 2015 and 158 in 2016.

Claims under the Inheritance Act are typically brought by a family member who has been left out of a will, or does not think they have been left enough.

If you have been left out of a friend or family member’s will, or if you do not think you have been left enough, then you may be able to make a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act.

Ben, who is based in Forbes’ Central Lancashire office, said: “With an ageing population, a dramatic increase in house prices and more complex family structures, will disputes are becoming increasingly common.

“There are various classes of people that can make a claim under the Inheritance Act including children, people treated as children (including step children), spouses and former spouses, and any person maintained wholly or partly by the deceased before death (this could include wider family members, friends or partners).”

In addition to claims under the Inheritance Act, the number of contentious probate claims generally has also risen steeply.

Ben said: “These cases arise in circumstances where a will may not be valid and there are number of ways to contest a will and challenge its validity, including on the basis of lack of mental capacity and undue influence:

“Also, if someone has been promised an inheritance but the inheritance was not in the will, in certain circumstances, a promise can be enforceable. So if someone was promised an inheritance and has not received it, and have relied on that promised to their detriment, then they may be able to make a claim.”

Court statistics indicate that in 2013 there were 97 contentious probate challenges started in the High Court and in 2014 this figure had jumped to 178. In 2015 the number of contentious probate cases dropped slightly to 164, and in 2016 there was a recorded drop to 77 (but this is likely to be inaccurate and due to a new case management system brought in by the court).

Ben said: “These figures do not include the vast number of cases that settle without court proceedings being started, and we expect there to continue to be a high number of claims. “Although courts are often reluctant to overturn the express wishes of a deceased person, given the ageing population and the rise in mental health issues such as dementia and Alzheimers, there is, and will likely continue to be, a rise in contentious probate claims."