Inheritance disputes up 37% since pandemic

Attempts to block the legal process of dealing with someone’s assets on death, known in England and Wales as probate, have jumped by 37%.

According to a freedom of information (FOI) request made by law firm Nockolds, a rise in DIY wills has resulted in an increase in family disputes.

The figures revealed nearly 10,000 challenges to the distribution of inherited estates in English and Welsh courts and tribunals service centres during 2021, a total up by 37% compared with 2019.

Responding to the figures, Clare Moffat, Pensions and legal expert at Royal London, said that the
COVID pandemic has “focused people’s minds” on the need to have their financial affairs in order.

“Death is one of the great taboo topics that most people find incredibly hard to talk about,” Moffat commented. “But discussing plans in advance ensures you and your loved ones can be better prepared emotionally, practically and financially.

“Statistics show that the pandemic was responsible for a spike in DIY will writing, possibly to save money. While avoiding the cost of using a will writer or solicitor may seem like a good way of saving money, producing a will yourself could lead to problems and end up costing a lot more in the long term. The cost of living crisis is causing many issues but these could be made even worse if a family can’t access any money, for months or perhaps years, after the death of the main earner.

“The law is complex and if you aren’t familiar with the process and terminology of writing a will, it’s all too easy to invalidate it or leave it open to challenge.”

According to research into wills, which was commissioned by Royal London and surveyed 2,000 UK adults in September 2021, more than half of adults (56%) in the UK don’t have a valid will, a figure that rises to 79% for 18 to 34-year-olds.

Six in 10 (62%) people haven’t reviewed their will in over a year, while three in ten (29%) have left it more than five years.

“Family structures are increasingly complicated, which in turn comes with challenging financial arrangements,” Moffat added. “It’s more important than ever to make sure your will is legally correct. Taking financial advice can also save money in the longer-term. Planning in advance can help reduce the amount of inheritance tax payable on death.

“Having a will can prove invaluable, especially if there are children, blended families or cohabitees. Preparing for death might seem pessimistic but in practice it’s about making sure the people you love receive what you would want them to. And it removes a lot of the complexity in the process at a time of sadness, compared with facing the laws of intestacy.”

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