High Court sees record figure of inheritance disputes

According to new figures, High Court disputes between family members over inheritance have reached a record high.

Last year under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, 116 cases were brought; an 11.5% increase from 2014, where 104 claims were made to the High Court. The difference from 2005 significant, as in this year only 15 cases were heard. This has increased to 8 times higher when compared to the latest figures.

The rise in claims has been put down to numerous reasons. Multiple marriages, cohabitation and civil partnerships have all contributed to the growing complexity in modern family structures, along with increased public awareness of the law and property price uplift.

Commenting on the recent increase of inheritance related court disputes, Partner at Nockolds, Daniel Winter, said: “Modern family structures are making inheritance claims increasingly likely. People are more likely to marry multiple times, or cohabit outside of marriage, and if there are children or stepchildren involved, the likelihood of someone feeling hard done by is even greater than before.”

Winter also highlighted the importance of intestacy law being modernised in order to reflect contemporary family dynamics. Before this is achieved he added, more people will continue to make claims on the estates of the deceased.

Following the Ilott v Mason ruling in 2015, awareness of adult children being purposely disinherited has grown, alongside the possibility of challenging a will. Winter expressed the decision as an encouraging reminder to adult children who may have not been included within a will at all or not sufficiently provided for, that they are able to contest the decision of their deceased parent. The case, he mentions, has increased public awareness that making a claim is viable option: “Understandably, this widely publicised case has led to enhanced knowledge amongst the general public of the possibility of making claims under the Inheritance Act and therefore it is likely that the number of claims will continue to rise as a result.”

Another potential cause of the rise in claim figures may be increased property prices. These can lead to claimants seeing disputing their estate or lack of share as more worthwhile, as acknowledged by Winter. “An estate needs to be of value to be worth contesting, as otherwise the costs involved in pursuing a case can be disproportionate. In many parts of the country pretty much any estate with a house in will be of significant value and seen by potential claimants as worth disputing.”

He also explained that, despite the potentially devastating impact a failed case can have on a claimant’s finances, many feel the risk is worth taking when the possible reward may be so significant. Winter describes that providing for those with a genuine financial need must to be the “whole purpose of the Act”.

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