Is the number of probate disputes rising?

Statistics by the Ministry of Justice have shown that the number of probate disputes in London has rose by 19% in 2011. There were 556 claims issued at the High Court in London in 2010, involving wills, trusts and estates. This figure increased to 663 cases for 2011. In 2006, 2 years before the 2008 crisis, there were just 310 cases; that’s an increase of 46.75%. 
 
There have also been a number of high profile cases in the media recently;
 
Thomas Kinkada – The wife and girlfriend of the artist known as the Painter of Light are in dispute over his $60 million estate. His mistress produced a shaky, hand-written will that states she should inherit a large portion of assets.
 
Jimmy Saville – left the majority of his £7.3 million estate to charity in his will.  Probate has been interrupted after a woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter stepped forward to make a claim on the star’s fortune.
 
Liliane Bettencourt –L'Oreal heiress and France’s richest woman has been declared unfit to manage her financial affairs. A 3 year court battle resulted in her daughter obtaining a guardianship order. As her health declined, Alzheimers sufferer Liliane changed her will making photographer Francois-Marie Banier sole heir to her billion dollar estate. 
 
These statistics certainly seem to imply that the increase in disputes can be attributed to the recession. The property crash has meant that estates are worth a lot less than they were. There’s a lot less to go around and beneficiaries can be shocked to discover they won’t inherit a life-changing sum. Relatives who have financial problems themselves cause by the recession will naturally be more likely to contest a will too.
 
2 thirds of Brits actually die intestate (without a will), and estate distribution is determined by the laws of intestacy. These laws have been criticised for being out-dated, bearing little relevance to modern families. An example of this is that common law spouses are not entitled to inherit. This can have serious implications for the survivor who, in theory, can be left destitute. As co-habitation is so prevalent these days, many more people are being affected by this. Families of today come in all shapes and sizes and the Inheritance Act does not take this into account. This may also account for rising numbers of contentious probate cases.

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