Family disputes over inheritance reach record high
Complexity of modern families, Ilott, and rising property values fuel claims, suggests lawyer
High Court disputes between family members over inheritance have reached a record high, according to new figures.
The number of High Court cases brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 reached 116 in 2015, an 11.5 per cent increase on 2014, when there were 104 High Court claims. The number of claims has increased by a factor of eight since 2005, when just 15 cases were heard in the High Court.
Reasons given for the rise in claims include the increasing complexity of modern family structures '“ cohabitation, civil partnerships, and multiple marriages '“ along with greater public knowledge of the law, and a rise in property prices.
Daniel Winter, a partner at Nockolds, commented: 'We are seeing a growing number of cases where people are seeking legal remedy as a result of being left out of a will entirely, or receiving less than they expected, either as a deliberate act on the part of the deceased or because a family member died without having made a will.
'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 added that until intestacy laws are updated to reflect modern family life, more people will make claims on deceased estates.
In the highly-publicised case of from July 2015, the Court of Appeal awarded an estranged daughter £143,000 after her mother left £486,000 to various animal charities. The ruling highlighted that even when adult children have been deliberately disinherited, it is still possible to challenge the will of the deceased.
'This ruling is seen by many as a source of encouragement to adult children who have been left out of a will or not provided for to any great extent, to seek to challenge their deceased parent's decision, whether that decision was set out in a written will or by deciding not to make a will at all and leaving the distribution of their estate to the laws of intestacy,' said Winter.
'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.'
Rising property prices may also be a factor in the steady rise in claims. Winter notes that while court actions can be expensive, increasing property values means some claimants see an estate as worth contesting.
'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,' explained Winter.
'Failing to win a claim can still be ruinously expensive but many will be prepared to take that risk when the potential upside is so significant, and in many cases vital, as the whole purpose of the Act is to provide for those who have a genuine financial need.'