Contentious probate claims are becoming more prevalent. By way of illustration, in 2006 only 83 cases concerning contentious probate were recorded by the High Courts in the UK, yet by 2008 this had risen to 228 cases.
On the basis that under the Civil Procedure Rules, which govern litigation in the UK, the onus is always on parties to try and settle cases before they even reach the Court, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.
In my view there are several different reasons for this increase. Firstly rising property and asset values in recent years have resulted in estates now being generally much larger than ever before. Now that the recession has properly taken hold, people have much less cash day to day and are therefore much more willing to fight over any inheritance that they may potentially be entitled to. Increasingly complex family relationships are another reason for this increase, with individuals on their second, third and sometimes fourth marriages, there are more instances of step and half siblings resulting in there being a greater number of individuals all fighting over one pot of money. Add to this an increased inadequacy of Will drafting, the apparent recent rise in intestacy and the fact that generally as a society we are becoming much more litigious and it is almost inevitable that this area of law is set to explode over the next few years.
So what exactly is contentious probate? Essentially contentious probate is any dispute concerning a person's estate, will or trust either before or generally after, the death of that person. Examples of disputes before the death of an individual on which we have received recent instructions are validity of lifetime gifts i.e. where gifts / transactions are made at an undervalue in order to avoid tax rules or creditors; Court of Protection applications concerning individuals who lack capacity and trust variations and disputes. Regrettably financial abuse matters, where vulnerable elderly individuals have had their money taken, are also very much on the rise. Fortunately, in most cases, we are able to assist clients in retrieving those sums at an early stage, an achievement of which I am immensely proud.
Examples of recent instructions received concerning disputes after the death of the individual include challenging the validity of a Will on a variety of different grounds; applications by disappointed beneficiaries for increased financial provision under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and disputes which arise during the administration of an estate where, for example, personal representatives of an estate require direction from the Court as they are unsure how to act in certain circumstances for example, where the legal or factual position is unclear, or there is a disagreement between the beneficiaries. Alternatively where the beneficiaries of an estate are dissatisfied with the personal representatives' conduct because they have either breached the trust or not acted correctly resulting in professional negligence and the beneficiaries want to either remove or replace those trustees or to seek compensation for the mal-administration of the estate.
Contentious probate is a very specific area of law requiring specific legal advice from a contentious probate specialist. There are strict time scales involved with certain types of contentious probate claims which are distinct from the "normal" litigation timescales. There are also specific protocols and codes of conduct by which solicitors working in this area are expected to abide. Again, experience of working on these types of matters is crucial to ensure the best possible outcome for the client.
At Clarion we have a specialist Contentious Probate Team consisting of myself and Julia Pearson. We have worked on a great number of matters concerning a variety of issues in this area of law. We employ specialist barristers where necessary and we also work closely with our very highly regarded non-contentious private client team to ensure that all of our private clients' needs are serviced to the highest levels by specialist solicitors within their respective disciplines.
If you think that you require advice regarding a potential claim please just give me a call on 0113 222 3239 to discuss your matter in detail.
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