‘Perfect storm’ sees surge in contentious probate

04 March 2021

Contentious probate claims have soared by a third due to what has been a described as a “perfect storm of circumstances” by a West Midlands lawyer.

Craig Ridge, Contentious Trusts and Probate Team lead at Higgs & Sons, said the Brierley Hill-based law firm has opened 30 per cent more cases than usual over the last six months.

Craig said the higher-than-average death rate as a result of the Covid-19 crisis was a major factor in the number of contested wills.

But he said other factors including a litigation culture, modern family dynamics and greater wealth were also playing a part.

Craig said: “We are extremely busy with more cases than ever before. Of course, tragically, an element of this is the increased death rate – and the fact people have had to put much of their lives on hold, giving them more time to focus on personal affairs. 

“But my feeling is that is just a part of it. I think what we are seeing here is a perfect storm of circumstances.

“I think, importantly, there is a greater awareness of contentious probate, you can see it creeping into the narrative in the press and even on TV dramas.

“Much like personal injury claims generally, people were unaware of their entitlement to compensation resulting from an injury, but that changed almost overnight when well resourced corporates began national marketing campaigns. I see the same happening with contentious probate in the coming years.”

Craig said that the changing family dynamic, which more often now involves second or third marriages and children by different partners, adds to the frustration and misunderstanding which typically exists behind these claims.

And he said that increasing family wealth, with more people leaving an estate worth at least six-figures, was also playing a role in the rise of contested wills.

Craig added: “We have an increasing population so the number of deaths will inevitably rise in the years to come.

“Coupled with a litigation culture, which has now seemingly become embedded, contentious probate is likely to rise for the foreseeable future.”

Craig said making a will as watertight as possible is one way to avoid disputes after death, although however well a Will may be prepared disputes can still arise.

But he advised anyone who does have concerns about the validity of a Will or the way in which a deceased person's estate is being dealt with should seek to understand their legal position at as early a stage as possible.

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