By Legal Futures Associate Finders International
There has been a huge increase in the amount of contentious probate work, a London law firm reports, attributing the cause to the exponential growth in London property prices over recent decades.
In an article on News on the Block, Bishop & Sewell LLP says the growth in property prices may have made it more attractive for claimants to contest probate as there is so much more money at stake.
The law firm has established a new team that specialises in contentious probate and Court of Protection disputes. Contentious probate issues arise when there are disputes over a deceased person’s estate, such as claims that dependents have not been adequately provided for, challenges to the validity of wills and disagreements over how an estate is administered or distributed.
Disputes about estate administration
Speaking to News on the Block, Rachel Waller said the firm had seen a large increase in disputes about estate administration, with much of that growth coming from clients based in and around London.
The key driver, she said, appeared to the exponential growth of house prices in London over the past few decades. This often applied in cases where people had bought their properties under the Right to Buy scheme many years ago and who were now approaching the end of their lives while in that time the value of that property had increased dramatically.
Data from the Land Registry shows average house prices in London have risen from about £25,000 in 1980 to more than £520,000 by December 2021, an increase of nearly 2,000 percent, while more than 300,000 homes in the city are now valued at £1 million or more.
People not included in wills
The trouble was, though, Ms Waller added that people whose property had increased so much in value this way did not always realise the need for effective estate planning, which had resulted in the rise in numbers of disputes. This happened particularly when family members felt their relative’s will did not reflect the deceased’s true wishes or if they hadn’t been included in the will.
The demographic changes in the area indicate the high volume of contentious probate work will continue for some time. There has also been a rise in no-win, no fee type claimants who advance claims that have little merit in the hope that the beneficiaries will settle to avoid incurring legal fees.
Contentious probate claims can involve very sensitive issues and be rooted in long-standing family disputes, Ms Waller concluded, advising people to have their will prepared by a specialist solicitor to ensure it is legally binding, and that people speak to their families about what they intend to avoid shocks after they die.
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