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Just the tip of the iceberg?

15 Mar 2013

It is widely accepted that wills and inheritance disputes are becoming more prevalent. This trend has been reported in the legal and general press for some time and I have witnessed it in my own practice.

An online article by Cahal Milmo in The Independent on 1 February 2013 provides observations similar to those before him. The basis of this article appears to be the annual statistics prepared by the Ministry of Justice for the years 2006 to 2011, which show an increase in inheritance claims being started as has been reported.

However, the reported trend is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to the overall number of will and inheritance disputes. I say this as the statistics relate solely to claims that were started in the High Court in London. They do not take into account the disputes that are litigated and resolved prior to court proceedings being started. In my experience, those settled disputes would account for somewhere in the region of 90% of the overall number. That is particularly so in more recent times as lawyers and the parties involved in such disputes are much more amenable to try and resolve a dispute before it goes to court, through mediation for instance.

Whether taking account of all such settled disputes would alter the general upward trend remains to be seen. It may be, of course, that their number has remained constant between 2006 and 2011. I would be surprised if that were the case, having seen a general increase in such claims over recent years.

To get a clearer picture of what is happening throughout England and Wales, you would need to take account of the claims started outside London in the District Registries of the High Court and also in the County Court. Factoring that into the statistics would most likely increase the overall number of claims started at court each year, but would it alter the upward trend?

The statistics from the Ministry of Justice give a good indication of what is happening above the water line but does little to show the deeper picture.

By Stephen Meade, Associate Solicitor at Richard Nelson LLP.

If you are concerned about any of the issues raised in this article, you can find more information in our contentious probate service page, or you can contact us directly.

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