Will and inheritance claims have been significantly increasing for many years now. According to the Ministry of Justice reporting in the Times last year, in 2016, the number of individuals seeking to claim a share or a larger proportion of a deceased person’s estate was 158 – a record number. Just three years later, 2019 smashed that record with 188 claims.
It remains to be seen whether 2020 set a new record. Although, with the arrival of Covid-19 at the start of the year, many Will and inheritance dispute practitioners reported sharp increases in the number of people enquiring about making a claim.
So, why are Will and inheritance disputes rising? These types of proceedings have a reputation for being extremely expensive and stressful for everyone involved and can often cause permanent damage to family relationships.
One of the major suggestions is that people have become more reliant on the prospect of receiving inheritance after their parents or other relatives pass away.
Why are inheritance disputes rising?
There are many reasons inheritance disputes are rising, including:
People are becoming more aware that you can challenge a Will – a number of high-profile cases have hit the headlines over the past few years, such as the famous case of Heather Ilott.
An increase in ‘blended’ families means there’s more chance of disagreements arising – for example, where the deceased person divorced and remarried during their lifetime and had children and stepchildren from multiple relationships.
Rising property prices over the past few decades mean there is more at stake – where there are large sums of money on the line, people are more likely to fight for everything they feel they are entitled to. This may especially be the case for people who cannot afford their own home, so maybe relying on an inheritance pay-out to get them on the property ladder.
Are people becoming more reliant on their inheritance?
Sadly, a tough economy and increasing financial inequality may be major factors in rising inheritance disputes. Younger people are less likely than previous generations to own their own homes; they are more likely to have significant student debt; pension benefits are less favourable for many; the costs of living are rising faster than average wages.
The amount of wealth owned by older people has also increased dramatically in recent years due to skyrocketing house prices.
All these factors are likely to affect a person’s inheritance needs and expectations.
Could Covid-19 cause contested probate disputes to rise?
When the coronavirus struck for the first time in March 2020, contentious probate experts began to fear an increase in contentious probate disputes due to issues such as:
- People being unable to get their Will witnessed properly
- People passing away unexpectedly without leaving a Will
- Administrative errors and delays during the probate process
The full impact of Covid-19 has yet to become apparent. However, in anticipation of some of the issues people have been facing, the Government has temporarily changed the law to allow lockdown Wills to be made using video conferencing software such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.
When can you make an inheritance claim?
Whether or not inheritance disputes are on the rise, if you have been left out of a Will or not left as much as you need after the death of a family member, it is worth exploring whether to make a claim.
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allows certain people to claim financial provisions from the estate of a deceased person. You can usually make a claim if you are a spouse, civil partner, close family member or dependant. Unfortunately, unmarried couples are not allowed to make a claim.
Making an Inheritance Act claim is extremely difficult. The court will not allow a claim just because you were related to the deceased person and were left out, the court will consider many factors, such as:
- Your financial resources
- The size and nature of the estate
- The resources of the other beneficiaries
- Any obligations or responsibility the deceased had towards you before they died
- Any physical or mental disability of anyone involved
- Any other matter the court considers relevant
It is therefore difficult to assess whether an Inheritance Act claim is likely to be successful. Such claims can also be expensive and distressing for everyone involved. So, it is important to seek specialist legal advice to decide whether going ahead with a claim is right for you.
Get advice about inheritance claims from our expert contentious probate solicitors
At Roythornes, our expert team of contentious probate solicitors can provide all the advice you need about making an inheritance claim, challenging a Will or challenging probate.