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Wills face legal challenges as house prices surge


Wills face legal challenges as house prices surge
Increasing number of fragmented families lead to inheritance disputes
by: Lucy Warwick-Ching
Legal challenges against wills numbered more than 12,000 in 2016, according to official figures for the UK, as rising property prices make estates more valuable. 
Lawyers said families were often more fragmented, with divorce and remarriage now routine, and that as Britain aged, dementia was becoming more prevalent. According to records from the government’s probate register, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Wilsons, a law firm, the number of legal challenges was 11,735 in 2014, then 14,167 in 2015. In most disputes, a settlement is reached before a dispute goes to court. But the number of cases reaching the High Court rose from 98 in 2012 to 164 in 2015. “Modern families are often much more complicated, with second and third marriages commonplace and cohabitation being more popular,” said Paula Myers, a partner at Irwin Mitchell, a law firm.“Also, with property values increasing rapidly over the past 20 years, estates are now much larger than they were decades ago meaning a larger pot for people to fight over,” she added.

A recent high-profile court case, Ilott v the Blue Cross, saw Heather Ilott contest her mother’s decision to leave the majority of her estate to charity. The long-running dispute ended with the Supreme Court ruling that Ms Ilott was not entitled to a larger share of her mother’s fortune just because she expected to inherit it.

Other recent high-profile disputes include that between the children of Sir George Martin, the music producer, and another involving the son of the television magician Paul Daniels, who left his fortune to his wife, Debbie McGee. Most disagreements over the distribution of assets are made by disappointed family members, according to Charlotte Watts, a partner at Wilsons. She said that while it was relatively unusual for a parent to disinherit a child completely, it was much more common for people to tailor their wills to favour one particular child over another.

More often than not, the person objecting to a will had been hurt both financially and emotionally by its contents, Ms Watts said, adding that the most emotionally charged cases tended to be those between siblings.With step-families becoming more commonplace, it is not unusual for people to make unequal provisions for their children from different relationshipsKarmen Ko, solicitor“A person’s will tends to be a reflection of the relationships they held during their lifetime,” she said. “This can be very hard for some children to process if they had fallen out with their parent, for example, or if they had always believed their sibling was favoured and the will supports this.”Karmen Ko, a private client solicitor at Moon Beever, said that disputes also often arise in families where a will divides assets unequally among children and step-children.

“With step-families becoming more commonplace in today’s society, it is not unusual for people to make unequal provisions for their children from different relationships,” Ms Ko said. “This can often result in family tension and ultimately lead to a challenge against the deceased’s estate for what is considered their ‘fair share’.” 

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