Soaring number of inheritance disputes in England and Wales


Date: 9 April 2024

An older couple write a will with the help of a solicitor

Recent insights published by The Guardian show that up to 10,000 people in England and Wales are contesting a will every year. While the overwhelming majority of these cases never reach the courts and are resolved through mediation instead, the number of cases reaching litigation is climbing year on year.

But, even when a case is resolved before reaching court, contesting a will is an incredibly unsettling, stressful and disruptive thing to do. The very nature of this sort of claim has family members taking sides and turning against one another, all over a question that can never be answered satisfactorily. Without the testator (the deceased person) even a best-case resolution will leave a lingering cloud for many years.

Clearly, this isn't the sort of case an individual undertakes without a compelling reason. So, why are so many more of us finding that compelling reason? Why is the number of UK will disputes skyrocketing?

A lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

In some ways, the pandemic it feels like it happened yesterday – in others, it feels like a lifetime ago. March 2024 marks four years since the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted a nationwide lockdown and forced many of us to reckon with scenarios we had never considered before.

Many people began to consider the possibility of dying prematurely and under very unexpected circumstances. As a result, a growing number of UK adults began to look into measures that would safeguard their families against financially precarious situations. For instance, the US saw applications for life insurance policies increase by 4% in 2020 , which marked the highest annual increase since 2001.

In the UK, we witnessed a big increase in the number of people investing in DIY will kits. These kits promise to speed up the process of writing a will and enable testators to put down their final wishes and bequests from the comfort of their own homes. While virtual solicitor appointments were available throughout the pandemic, many felt that a kit simply offered the simpler, quicker solution.

The trouble is, these DIY will kits are infamous for oversimplifying the will-writing process – sometimes with devastating consequences. They put the burden of ensuring the legal validity of the will on the shoulders of people who do not understand inheritance law and fail to account for that shortfall.

The result? Many, many wills that contain basic clerical errors, oversights, inconsistencies, and passages where the testator's intentions are not clear which prove divisive by the time they reach family members.

At times, declaring a will invalid is easy. Basic clerical errors can be enough on their own to force a court to rule out an entire will. Other times, reaching a fair conclusion is much harder. If promises or obligations to beneficiaries are forgotten or omitted from the final document, family members may need to go through a long and traumatic court case just to get what they are owed.

The solution

It isn't over until it's over. Even if you created a DIY will kit before, during, or after the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not too late. You can update or amend your will by working with a solicitor to draw up a legally sound will that identifies all your assets and beneficiaries in a way that won't cause trouble down the line.

Copyright 2024. Article was made possible by site supporter Ocere.

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