The increase in contentions and claims against estates

Disputes about the contents of wills, and the administration and distribution of a deceased person’s estate have been rising over recent years. There are a number of reasons for this, with people increasingly being more willing to challenge a Will via legal means.

In this article, Bharat Murria from our Contentious Probate team discusses what are the reasons for this increase and what is the process for contesting a Will?

Why are contentions and claims against estates rising?

Due to the rapid rise in property prices over the last couple of decades, estates are now often worth considerably more. Whereas in the past, the number of significant estates that may make a contestation worthwhile was small, larger numbers now have a total value that runs into the hundreds of thousands. This increases the incentive for people to challenge each other over the distribution of family assets.

The increased cost of living and difficulties purchasing property may mean that younger family members have a greater expectation about what they should receive. Family members may be disappointed with what they are due to receive or have received, and may wish to challenge distribution in the Will to organisations such as charities or to more distant family members or friends.

Greater longevity means that people are more likely to change their Will over time. This means that what was once believed to be promised to someone may be amended without them having knowledge. This can create expectations that are not met by the contents of the Will when the person who made it dies. Claims in proprietary estoppel can arise if people acting to their detriment following a promise. Also, it may be believed that an older person who has amended their will did not have the necessary mental capacity to do so.

Modern family life combined with greater longevity will often mean that people have remarried and have more complex family arrangements. Children and grandchildren from previous relationships may feel left out or unfairly treated if the Will does not reflect this complexity. It may also be felt that a new spouse has placed undue pressure on the deceased to amend a Will.

The reasons for the increase in claims against estates are complex and will in most cases be highly individual.

Additionally, there has been an increase in Executors or Administrators administering an Estate themselves without using legal advisers which has increased the prospects of litigation.

What are the different types of claims?

Claims can be made on a number of grounds:

● Lack of testamentary capacity

If the person making the will, known as the testator, did not have the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of their actions, the will can be challenged.

● Undue influence

If it’s felt that the testator has been unduly influenced to include provisions in the Will that they wouldn’t otherwise have made, the Will can then be contested.

● Forgery or fraud

If it’s believed that the Will is a product of fraud or forgery, then this can be grounds for contestation.

● Lack of due execution

If the will wasn’t executed in line with the formalities that are required by the law, such as being signed by two witnesses, then it may be challenged.

● Wills made under duress

If it’s believed that the testator was forced or threatened to make or change the provisions of a Will, then this can be grounds for contestation.

● Rectification and construction

A Will can be challenged if it is considered to be ambiguous, unclear, or doesn’t carry out a person’s wishes as they have been understood.

● Family provision

If someone who was financially dependent on the deceased has not been adequately provided for, they may wish to contest the will. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 makes provision for a court to alter the distribution of the estate of a deceased person to any spouse, former spouse, child, child of the family or dependent of that person.

What to consider if you want to challenge a Will

Concerns about the contents of a Will can add extra stress and uncertainty to what is already a challenging time. If you believe that you have not been adequately provided for in a Will, or that the wishes of the deceased are not honoured in the Will, then you may wish to explore your options.

If you believe that a Will was made due to threats or undue influence, then this is a serious matter and you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Before deciding to challenge a Will it’s important to consider if the likely rewards for doing so will outweigh some of the challenges and likely emotional consequences of doing so.

At Murria Solicitors, our experienced team of Wills and Probate solicitors can provide confidential advice about contesting a Will, whether you have grounds to do so, and the likely outcome.

Challenging a Will is a serious matter and shouldn’t be undertaken without careful consideration. Our team can help you make the right decision for you and support your claim should you decide to contest.

Call 0333 800 0033 or email law@murria.co.uk today to find out more.

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