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Death disputes – What’s driving the increase in claims?

The most recent statistics released by the High Court suggest that there has been an increase in the number of inheritance disputes being heard at court, rising from 227 in 2018 to 368 in 2019 according to figures analysed by Nockolds Solicitors.

The number of disputes in this area of law has surged since 2005, when the High Court heard just 15 claims pursued under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

The considerable increase in the number of claims being brought, whether a person is disputing the validity of a will or is pursuing a claim where a person has been left out of an estate, suggests that there may be some underlying cause behind this.

An increase in public profile of this type of dispute since Illott v Blue Cross (2017), formerly known as Illott v Mitson, is undoubtedly a contributing factor but in order for a claim to be brought there has to be a dispute between parties in the first place and the figures would suggests that the number of disputes are increasing.

Since we started with a statistic, I have looked at some other statistics to try and establish why the number of disputes has escalated in recent years.

 The Modern Family

Today’s family structures are anything but simple. A quick look at the Office of National Statistics website provides ample support for that statement.[1]

 Remarriage 

  • In 2016, out of 248,992 men who married, 60,905 were either widowed or had been previously married.

That’s nearly 25%, and the figures for women are only slightly lower at approaching 24%.

 Couples with Children

  • In 2017 over 51% of married couples had children.

Taking those two statistics together would suggest that just over 50% of women and men who are remarrying every year would have children from a previous relationship, and that’s before you take into account the number of people unmarried but living together in a couple, which is a further 12.6% of the population, many of whom it would be reasonable to assume would have children from previous relationships.

Multi-Family Households

Perhaps the most compelling statistic which explains why there is an increasing trend towards probate disputes is as follows:

  • In 2017, there were 1,636,000 “multi-family households” in existence in the United Kingdom.

This contrasts with 897,000 in 1996 when the ONS began gathering this statistic. This suggests that the number of blended families has increased considerably over the last 20 years, so it is unsurprising we are starting to see a knock of effect of that in probate litigation.

Analysis

It is easy to draw the conclusion from the statistics that, as the population grows, and the number of people who decide to remarry or begin living with a new partner rises, this is going to create increasingly complex family structures. As a consequence, the people at the head of those families are going to find it increasingly difficult to be able to make adequate provision for all the people they want to take care of in their wills because there are a number of people from different strands of the family who might expect to receive something from their estate.  It is also likely that, as the claims culture continues to exist in society, there are more aggrieved family members who are willing to bring a claim rather than merely accept the disappointment of being excluded. As such, there are more people who, understandably, will look to challenge a will or bring a claim against a person’s estate in order to secure part of the estate for themselves.

Probably the most common dispute we see is between new partner of the deceased and the deceased’s children from previous relationships and the growing number of families with this combination of personnel suggests that the number of probate disputes being brought to the court is only going to continue to increase.

[1] www.ons.gov.uk

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