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In 2022, the United Kingdom witnessed 540,338 individuals passing away, leaving behind a considerable number of relatives, some of whom found themselves grappling with unexpected challenges related to inheritances. A report from IRN Legal Reports highlighted a 4.3% increase in contentious wills, trusts, and probate work in 2021, with a projected 5.2% increase in 2022. Inspire Legal Group, a leading solicitor in North Yorkshire, can assist you with wills, trusts and probate.

According to statistics from Todays Wills and Probate, the number of law firms offering contentious probate advice surged from 73 in 2018 to 268 by October 2022. This increase reflects a growing need for legal expertise in handling disputes arising from wills, trusts, and probate matters.

Several factors contribute to the recent surge in contentious probate cases:

Rise in DIY or Poorly Drafted Wills: The COVID-19 pandemic saw an uptick in individuals creating their wills, often resulting in poorly drafted documents. This trend has led to an increase in legal disputes over unclear or contested wills.

Complex Family Structures: Evolving family dynamics, including higher rates of divorce, remarriage, blended families, and cohabitation, contribute to the complexity of inheritance matters. Disputes often arise when interpreting the wishes of individuals in non-traditional family setups.

Increase in Wealth and Property Values: Rising property values, particularly in London, have contributed to a wealth increase. The surge in asset values prompts more significant disputes over inheritances, especially when dealing with valuable real estate.

Aging Population and Mental Capacity Issues: The aging demographic and a rise in instances of mental capacity issues add complexity to probate cases. Disputes may arise when beneficiaries question the validity of a will due to concerns about the deceased’s mental state.

Data from the Land Registry underscores the impact of increasing asset values, with average house prices in London soaring over 2,000% from £25,000 in 1980 to over £520,000 by December 2021. Additionally, over 300,000 homes in London are now valued at £1 million or more.

The absence of legal recognition for common-law marriages in England and Wales amplifies the challenges. Cohabitants may find themselves excluded from intestacy rules, necessitating claims under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This legislation offers a remedy for cohabitants meeting specific criteria, including living in the same household for at least two years before the date of death.

Moreover, concerns persist regarding the distinction between the rights of stepchildren and biological children. Under current intestacy rules, stepchildren have no legal entitlement, necessitating reliance on a valid will or potential claims under the Inheritance Act.

As the legal landscape grapples with adapting to modern family structures, the increasing value of estates suggests a continued rise in disputes. Until legal provisions catch up with societal changes, the trend in contentious probate cases is likely to persist. Inspire Legal Group enables proportionate costs and supports positive changes to benefit clients. 

Natalie Foster – Owner

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