There has been a recent surge in inheritance disputes, with the Guardian reporting in March that as many as 10,000 people in England and Wales are now disputing Wills every year. 

Most contentious probate cases are settled out of court. However, the number of disputes that end up before judges has mirrored the overall rise, increasing by 35% from 2017 (145 cases) to 2022 (195). 

Disputing a Will can be costly. Several recent high-profile cases are evidence of the substantial emotional and financial turmoil that can be involved in contesting a Will. 

In this blog, our Contentious Probate lawyers consider why the number of disputes over Wills has increased and give their top tips on how to avoid them. 

What is contentious probate? 

Contentious probate refers to legal disputes that can arise in relation to the administration and distribution of a deceased person’s estate.  

Disputes can arise for various reasons and occur in instances where there was a Will, or if the deceased died intestate (without a Will). 

On what grounds can you contest a Will? 

You can contest a Will in two ways: 

  1. Because a Will is invalid. 

You can contest a Will because it is invalid. A Will might be invalid for various reasons, including: 

  • It hasn’t been made or executed properly. 
  • The person making the Will (the ‘testator’) lacked mental capacity. 
  • There was undue influence on the testator. 
  • The Will has been forged. 
  • There was a lack of knowledge and approval. 
  1. By making a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. 

If a Will is valid, but you feel like you have been left out, treated unfairly or not been adequately provided for, you may be able to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act. 

Inheritance Act claims can only be brought by the following: 

  • Spouse of civil partner of the deceased. 
  • Former spouse or civil partner of the deceased, provided they have not remarried or entered another civil partnership. 
  • A child of the deceased. 
  • Any person who is treated as being a child of the deceased. 
  • Any person financially dependent on the deceased. 

Can you contest probate if there is no Will? 

If a person dies without leaving a Will, their estate must be shared according to the rules of intestacy. These rules provide guidance on how an estate is to be distributed through a set hierarchy, depending on which family members survive you. This can include a spouse or civil partner, your children, your parents, your grandparents and more distant relatives. 

However, intestacy law can still be challenged and may lead to contentious probate. 

Contentious probate claims are becoming more common. 

At Langley Wellington, we have extensive experience handling disputes about Wills, Trusts, and estates and can act on behalf of a variety of clients, including beneficiaries, families, and individuals. 

We can also help you defend a challenge to a Will. 

To speak with our Wills and Contentious Probate lawyers, please call 01452 521286, email lawyers@langleywellington.co.uk or make an online enquiry

Why has there been an increase in Will disputes? 

There has been a rise in contentious probate cases in recent years for several reasons. These include: 

  • Higher death rate. Covid-19 pushed up the death rate in 2020 to 607,922, the second highest since 1838. More deaths mean more potential claims. 
  • Ageing population. At the time of the 2021 Census, over 11 million people – 18.6% of the total population – were 65 years or older, compared with 16.4% in 2011. In the next 25 years, the number of people older than 85 will double to 2.6 million.  
  • Increase in mental capacity issues. There are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and this number is expected to rise sharply in the coming years.  
  • Financial dependence. The cost-of-living crisis means many people are living with their parents for longer. This can lead parents to change their Wills to reflect this longer financial dependency, or more challenges brought by children who feel they have not been adequately provided for to reflect the care they provided. 
  • Generational wealth. ‘Baby Boomers’ (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) are one of the most influential and wealthiest demographics of society and comprise around one-fifth of the UK’s population. It is estimated that around £5.5 trillion worth of assets will pass from the Baby Boomer generation in inheritance between now and 2050. 
  • Property prices. The value of property has increased considerably across the UK over the years. Price rises have been particularly marked in Gloucestershire, with data from HM Land Registry revealing that house prices in the county have seen a staggering 74 per cent surge in the last decade. In March 2024, the average house price in Cheltenham was £330,000.  
  • Greater awareness. More coverage in the press of inheritance disputes has resulted in greater exposure of probate claims and a heightened willingness among the general population to dispute a Will. 
  • Homemade and DIY Wills. An increase in DIY and poorly drafted Wills, often made in an ill-judged attempt to save money, has opened the door to more disputes

How can you avoid disputes over your Will? 

There are several steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of your Will being disputed after your death. These include:  

  • Seek advice from a specialist solicitor. An experienced solicitor will ensure your Will is legally in accordance with the correct procedures and drafted correctly, so that it is less open to misinterpretation later on. 
  • Review your Will regularly. It is good practice to review your Will every three years or following a significant life event to ensure it is up to date and accurately reflects your wishes. A significant life event could include birth, marriage, divorce, death or a material change in personal circumstances. 
  • Consider your testamentary capacity. Doubts over whether a person is of sound mind when they write their Will can leave their estate open to dispute. Elderly people, or those who are in the early stages of dementia, should take additional precautions, such as obtaining certification of mental capacity from a medical professional, to ensure they are protected. 
  • Defend yourself from any potential Inheritance Act claims. The Inheritance Act gives certain individuals the right to make a claim against your estate if you haven’t provided for them in your Will. A solicitor will advise you on the extra precautions you might need to take if you plan to leave a close family member out of your Will.  
  • Speak to your loved ones. Being upfront about your wishes can save time, effort and money later on. 

Wills Disputes Lawyers Gloucestershire 

A dispute over a Will adds further stress and upset during an already difficult time.  

Seeking early legal advice from an experienced and sympathetic solicitor with experience in contentious probate can help. 

Our Wills disputes lawyers in Cheltenham and Gloucester are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS). Membership requires completion of strict criteria and substantial expertise in the area of Will disputes. 

Through our knowledge and expertise, our inheritance law specialists will guide you through the process, finding the solution that is best for you. 

To speak with our Wills Disputes and Contentious Probate solicitors in Gloucestershire, please call 01452 521286, email lawyers@langleywellington.co.uk or make an online enquiry