The growth in claims after death
Over the next few months, Barrett & Co will be publishing a series of articles highlighting the extensive work that we do in what is known as Contentious Probate.
This specific type of civil litigation is primarily linked to issues and disputes caused when family members pass away, perhaps leaving a Will which you may believe is invalid; a valid Will but does not leave the sum you believe you deserved or were promised by the deceased; or where there is no Will at all, and the Estate distribution under Intestacy does not achieve the result which you think was intended.
Our articles will look at all of these different options and also the branching issues that could be associated with these situations.
With Contentious Probate being a huge growth area, Barrett & Co are specialists in providing clear and concise advice to anybody who thinks that they may have a claim against an Estate or have concerns about a deceased’s estate in any other way, and should you believe that any of our upcoming articles might apply in your family setups, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Why is this such a growth area?
The Independent newspaper reported back in January 2013 that the number of Court cases declaring whole Wills as invalid, either due to lack of capacity or other validity issues, has almost doubled. Alongside this, London’s High Court had seen a 700% rise in the number of actions challenging Wills, although this does not equate to a 700% increase in successful claims.
The reason for such a growth in disputes can be for several reasons, including changing family structures in modern Britain, changing accumulation of wealth for younger generations and the issues of homemade Wills.
(1) Family Structures
According to the Office for National Statistics, around 42% of marriages end in divorce. Although some people never re-marry, many do find a partner later on in life, but this late introduction to a new family can give rise to several issues, including when considering inheritance.
The family model of 2.4 children per family is no longer seen as the standard familial setup. Stepchildren, personal wealth division upon re-marriage and other issues make up for a rise in disputes, for example, a stepchild of a deceased has no automatic entitlement to inherit in an Estate unless they are specifically nominated in a Will.
There are many family setups where stepchildren and cohabitation issues may arise. Channels of communication between family members, which historically may have been clear, may now be blurred, resulting in unresolved resentment and argument, which can be refuelled after the loss of a family member.
(2) Economic Climate
Another reason for the increase in contesting Wills could be because of our economic climate. A recent study by the Financial Times has discovered that “Millennials” are significantly poorer than that of older generations, such as the “Baby Boomers” and with our future economic prospects looking uncertain, there is the argument that for the younger generation, one of the primary ways to achieve personal wealth is from a familial inheritance. For many this means that being excluded or under-provided for by inheritance is now worth fighting for, whilst several years ago, the chances of independent wealth may have meant many people chose to avoid further family rifts.
(3) Homemade Wills
The value of having your Will drafted professionally by solicitors, cannot be undervalued. For a Will the cost of around £250.00 (rising depending on complexity), can significantly reduce the risk of costs and disputes after death. Estates can potentially decrease in value by thousands of pounds to pay for legal fees that arise in Contentious Probate. Whether the Estate or the claimant pays, the funds available for distribution or the value of an award received will reduce.
The Co-operative Legal Services have even suggested that poorly drafted or ineffective homemade Wills are to blame for prolonged Probate applications and disputes for around 38,000 families per year.
From our Firm’s own experience, homemade Wills often contain ambiguity or a lack of clarity, and they can often give rise to questions of capacity and the possibility of undue influence.
Although this is not an exhaustive list of reasons for Estate disputes to arise, it does provide an overview of why this is such a growth area.
Over the next few months our articles will be delving deeper into specific examples of when disputes can arise, what you can do to prevent them if you are thinking about Estate Planning, and how to ensure you get the best result for your claim, or in defending a claim.
Should you have any immediate questions regarding Contentious Probate, whether that be in relation to your own Estate, or that you are an Executor and you believe a claim may arise; or indeed if you have a claim against an Estate, please do not hesitate to contact the Contentious Probate Department at Barrett & Co. Our solicitors can provide initial advice under our Fixed Fee umbrella to assist you in moving forward at this difficult time.