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    19 October 2020

    Coronavirus: Rise in contested probate?

    In 2019 the Business and Property Court in London saw an all time high in the number of contested probate cases with the amount being almost double the number of cases in 2016. Whilst the latest figures for the second quarter of 2020 (April – June) show a decrease in the number of cases from the first quarter (88, down from 116) it is expected that following the Coronavirus pandemic this number is likely to increase again. **

    The rise in contested probate cases over recent years has been attributed to increasing wealth through greater property ownership and increased house prices, complex family relationships and a rise in homemade Wills. Research by Insurance provider, Direct Line Group in 2019 revealed that over a quarter of Brits would be prepared to contest a loved ones Will if they were unhappy with it, and reveals the most common reason for contesting a Will in the UK is on the grounds of ‘undue influence’ i.e. where pressure placed a person to make or change their Will;

    Many Solicitors experienced an increase in demand for Wills throughout the Coronavirus lockdown period. The pandemic put the matter of making a Will at the forefront of people’s minds and led many to rush to a make or update a Will. With lockdown measures and social distancing guidelines in place, many had to seek innovative ways to ensure the strict requirements for making a Will were met, for example by witnessing Wills through windows. Understandably many are now concerned that a number of Wills made during the pandemic have not been witnessed correctly or validly executed and this is sure to be translated into an increase in the number contested probate claims.

    The Government recently announced that Wills can be signed and witnessed remotely via video-link and this provision will be back dated to Wills made from 31 January 2020. Whilst the legislation was introduced to facilitate the signing of Wills during these unprecedented times it is likely that it will lead to an increase in potential contested probate claims. The use of remote video link gives rise to questions over undue influence and capacity. The individual witnessing the Will cannot be sure that there is no one standing behind the camera with the Testator guiding their decision-making.

    With the increase in demand and urgency of Wills during the pandemic it is no surprise that many individuals will have turned to making DIY home-made Wills or unregulated Will-writers which on the face of it seem a more cost effective choice. However such Wills often fail to recognise or consider any doubts about the capacity of the person making the Will or whether they have been coerced into making or changing their Will. They also run the risk of containing errors or omissions which can lead to the terms of the Will having a different effect than intended. All of these are factors which are likely to result in an increase in contested probate claims.

    What should I do if I want to contest a Will or estate?

    It is important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible as depending on the nature of your claim the time limit to bring your claim could be only 6 months from the issue of the Grant of Probate (where there is a Will) or Grant of Letters of Administration (where there is no Will). A challenge can be raised before a Grant has been issued and the best way of achieving this is by entering a caveat at the Probate Registry. This prevents the Grant from being issued until after the caveat has expired.

    Contested probate – how do I know if I have a claim?

    We offer an initial fixed fee consultation to discuss the validity of contesting a Will or Inheritance dispute to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision before giving us further instructions.

    Our Wills and Probate Litigation Solicitors can help you in disputing or contesting a Will. The earlier a dispute can be addressed the quicker and easier it is to diffuse. Our advice is to contact us sooner rather than later.

    ** It is important to note that these figures do not include cases dealt with by other Courts in England and cases that are settled before they reach court and therefore only show a snapshot of the true number of cases.

    *The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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