Law firm sees huge 72% spike in inheritance disputes

Law firm JMW Solicitors saw a huge 72% spike in Inheritance Act claims in 2021 and predicts figures will rise further as the cost of living crisis hits savings and people become more savvy about challenging wills.

The figure adds weight to recent research from Direct Line Insurance which found 1 in 4 people would challenge a Will if they were unhappy with the way assets had been distributed.

Alison Parry, Partner and Head of Wills and Trusts Disputes at JMW, said: “I do believe that attitudes towards challenging loved one’s last wishes have changed - people are more savvy about how to dispute a will and there is a growing sense of entitlement, with family members determined to get what they feel they deserve.

“There also seems to be much less concern about upsetting the apple cart than there once was - inheritance disputes create a lot of conflict and deep family rifts can be very difficult to heal.

“We are also likely to see the cost of living crisis add fuel to inheritance disputes this year - savings will take a hit and people will be less likely to take a pragmatic view in situations where they feel they perhaps haven’t been left what they deserve.”

While many claims do routinely involve multi-million pound estates and a complex mix of assets and capital, JMW has seen the figures at stake continuing to fall - a £500,000 property in Cheshire was at the heart of one of the firm’s recent cases and became the subject of a gruelling two-year dispute, ending in success after a three -day trial.

Alison added: “We are seeing more families in conflict over much smaller numbers - a will is never iron-clad but it does show why we perhaps need to take a more strategic approach to will writing, thinking about potential points of conflict and whether there is anything that can be done to prevent disputes.

“You may not want to leave a certain person anything, but perhaps a small token would mean that your loved ones are free to grieve after you have passed and your wishes will not be questioned.

“A will should also be revisited after major life changes - that’s particularly important for people with fraught relationships with loved ones, or who have more complex family set-ups.”

CASE STUDY (IMAGES AVAILABLE)

Nick Shepherd-Fellows, 28, was the recipient of his grandmothers’ estate - while he had been due to share it equally with his mother, she also sadly passed away shortly afterwards.

Her £500,000 home was the only major asset, which was passed to Nick and his 17-year old step brother, of whom he had been named guardian.

Nick’s aunt, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, had not been written into the Will and a legal challenge was mounted by her husband on her behalf.

The two young men had remained living in their grandmother’s modest semi-detached home which they had previously also shared with their mother. It had been in the family for several generations so it held deep emotional significance.

With no remaining family besides each other, the legal challenge meant that they risked losing their home.

Nick said: “To my mind, this always should have been the result but it has still caused a great deal of stress to go through this process and have our lives on hold for two years in the fear that we would be told we had to leave and sell our family home. 

Now we are secure in the knowledge that we have our home, and we can continue with our education in the way we believe our grandmother and mother would have wanted.”

Alison explained, “When Nick’s aunt received her Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis - despite the fact that the illness had not altered his grandmother’s wishes - the Court questioned whether the Will ought to have been revisited and the notes updated to reiterate the previous reasons in light of the change in circumstances of the excluded daughter. That omission perhaps gave a glimpse of hope to the aunt and the Inheritance Act claim was brought and pursued through the courts.”

“It was an incredibly difficult time for Nick and his brother and took a huge toll on their mental health. His grandmother had carefully set out her wishes, which were clearly thought through with great care. His aunt and her husband were in a far, far stronger financial position, and did attempt to conceal assets from the Court. In contrast, Nick had been dealt a very difficult card and felt a great weight of responsibility on his shoulders. His worries were then magnified by the legal action looming over him for two years - and of course the fear of losing his and his brother’s home.

“We’re pleased to have been able to support him through what was a very challenging time in his life and to have been able to secure the right result for both him and his brother - and to ensure that his grandmother’s wishes were upheld.”

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