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UK Inheritance Disputes Report 2022

UK Inheritance Disputes Report 2022

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We surveyed UK citizens to ask them about their experiences dealing with an inheritance dispute. Our results have thrown up some surprises, so take a look…

If someone has passed away and left behind a will, their loved ones may have the opportunity to challenge the document’s validity and their inheritance. They can do so if the deceased lacked testamentary capacity, there was undue influence or fraudulent activity, or because they have been left out of the will, amongst other reasons.

In January 2022, we asked 1,000 UK citizens who had been involved in a will, inheritance, or probate dispute over the past 10 years various questions about their experience. The study took a deep dive into matters associated with inheritance disputes and contested wills and probate, including the reasons people have disputed a will and what they stood to gain from such a dispute.

Here, we provide an initial breakdown of the statistics to show what UK citizens can expect going into their own contentious probate case.

Key Will Dispute Statistics

According to the respondents to our survey:

  • 3 in 4 people are likely to experience a will, inheritance, or probate dispute in their lifetime.
  • Inheritance disputes among siblings are the most common form of dispute.
  • You’re more likely to experience a dispute in relation to your father’s will than any other relation.
  • The average age of the deceased whose will was disputed was 58.7 years.
  • 1 in 4 who disputed their inheritance said it was because the deceased was coerced.
  • 47% of survey respondents were set to inherit between £50k and £1 million.
  • The average amount recovered from will, inheritance or probate disputes was around £190k.
  • Almost 40% of people die with debts.
  • 1 in 3 disputes initiated by non-family claimants were said to be ‘colleagues’ of the deceased.
  • Men are 11% more likely to be involved in an inheritance dispute than women.
  • Men are likely to inherit more than women in a will.

Demographic breakdown of inheritance disputes

Inheritance disputes and gender

According to the findings of the survey, men are 11% more likely to be involved in an inheritance dispute and, in addition to this, are also shown to have been involved in multiple disputes more often than women.

This is particularly interesting given that the results from the survey also point towards the fact that, on average, men are likely to inherit more than women in a will. However, this does not mean that men are not instigating inheritance disputes based on the level of inheritance they were expecting to receive. In fact, 27% of male claimants challenged a will based on the level of inheritance they were set to receive –  4% higher than female claimants.

It was also found that 70% of male participants in the survey were executors, compared to 64% of female participants.

These figures could serve to suggest that men are more willing to challenge the contents of a will, or dispute probate – and to handle the additional administrative and legal complications this entails – even if they may already stand to earn more from inheritances than women.

Relations to the deceased and inheritance disputes

Firstly, it is important to outline that the average age of the deceased that the will or probate dispute related to was 58.7 years. The breakdown of the statistics regarding the most common relations to the deceased goes some way to supporting this, but also throw up a number of interesting contrasts.

The most common dispute occurred regarding the father’s will (11%), which would tend to match the average age range previously mentioned. However, only 7% of mothers’ wills were the subject of a dispute.

Of those who took part in the survey, and did not personally dispute any part of the will, 45% said that the person who did dispute their inheritance was related to them. From this sample, 49% of disputes involved the participant’s sibling, which suggests that you are more likely to be faced with an inheritance dispute from a sibling than anyone else.

For will disputes where the claimant was not a family member, 33% who disputed were said to be a ‘colleague’ and 22% of claimants were a neighbour. This was the most surprising statistic for us, as it does not reflect our experience within the field of contentious probate. We cannot think of any situation where a colleague would dispute a will, but many survey participants had experienced this; a very unexpected result.

Wills and income

The survey revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of very clear patterns to suggest that people with higher incomes stood to inherit more than those with lower incomes.

The key figures here are that 27% of people earning more than £70,000 were set to inherit more than £1 million, while 44% of people earning up to £5,000 were set to inherit just £1,000 to £5,000. This indicates that those on a higher income are, on average, inheriting more than those on a lower income.

Why are people disputing their inheritance?

The statistics reinforce the notion that there are a wide variety of reasons for disputing an inheritance, all of which share a relatively even split.

The headline figures are:

  • Over 1 in 4 (26%) stated that the reason for the will being disputed was because the claimant was not happy with the inheritance they received.
  • 1 in 4 (25%) said the estate was not being distributed properly.
  • 1 in 4 (25%) said the deceased was not able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which they ought to give effect, such that they lacked testamentary capacity.
  • Just under 1 in 4 (24%) said someone close to the deceased had coerced them to change the will.

How are people resolving will or probate disputes?

Instructing specialist probate lawyers

Specialist wills and probate lawyers can help to deal effectively with a will dispute, ensuring that every detail is covered. This means that, if a claimant has a legitimate case for a will to be disputed or an executor needs support to ensure that the estate is properly distributed, everybody’s legal rights are fully respected.

Based on the findings from the survey, 7 in 10 people got lawyers involved in the dispute proceedings. Of these people, 60% (in other words 42% of overall participants) used specialist contentious probate lawyers, 23% (17% of overall participants) used specialist litigators, and 14% (10% overall) used generic lawyers.

Dealing with legal fees

In general, most people who enlisted the support of a legal professional were required to pay less than £10,000. In fact, 64% of people surveyed paid under this figure, and 37% paid less than £5,000. However, the average value of legal fees across the board was £12,775.40.

It is worth noting that, on the subject of legal fees, there was a contrast with regards to the split between men and women. It would appear that men are more likely to spend more on legal fees for will disputes than women.

This particular statistic ties into the ways in which men and women elect to resolve will disputes – something discussed below. Anything that does not involve out of court negotiation is likely to result in higher legal fees.

Reaching a resolution

While, of course, no will or probate dispute will be entirely painless to sort out, many cases can be settled out of court, which is something the survey supports.

Negotiation is the most flexible of all the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms as it is completely under the control of the parties. Mediation, while still flexible, is a process where the parties are undertaking negotiations in the presence of an independent mediator.

Our survey showed that 36% of inheritance disputes were solved via mediation and 21% were solved through negotiation. It was also found that women were 10% more likely to settle by negotiation than men, who are 14% more likely to settle by mediation.

Claimants’ results

60% of claimants who disputed their inheritance obtained some form of benefit from doing so. Of those who benefitted from claiming:

  • 1% claimed less than £1,000
  • 13% claimed £1,000 – £5,000
  • 16% claimed £5,001 – £10,000
  • Almost 2 in 5 (19%) claimed £10,001 – £50,000
  • 16% claimed £50,001 – £100,000
  • 11% claimed £100,001 – £300,000
  • Almost 2 in 5 (19%) claimed over £300,000

On average, the estimated amount that a claimant received was £190,793.55. What is especially worth pointing out is that, when solicitors were instructed in cases, they were generally able to estimate accurately how much the claimant would receive. If anything, they slightly underestimated by around £20,000.

Assessing the average cost of legal fees alongside the average value of a successful claim does also demonstrate that instructing legal professionals to make a claim is worthwhile. On average, when we compare the difference between the legal fees and the amount recovered by the claimant, claimants benefitted overall by £178,018.

Methodology

Our survey was conducted by OnePoll among 1,000 respondents in the UK, all of which had dealt with contentious probate in the past ten years (whether they were the claimant or someone else was the claimant against an estate in which they were involved in). The research fieldwork took place on 11th January 2021 to 28th January 2021.

OnePoll is an independent market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and adheres to the MRS Code of Conduct.

What to do if you are involved in an inheritance dispute

As we have touched on, with the right legal guidance and thorough approach, many contentious probate matters and will or inheritance disputes can be resolved quickly and effectively, reducing the potential for court proceedings.

At IBB Law, we have decades of combined experience and specialist expertise in dealing with all manner of wills, trusts and probate disputes. We have particular expertise in handling matters involving high value estates and foreign assets, seeking creative and effective solutions to even the most complex disputes.

As a firm, we are fully accredited, and a member of the Law Society’s Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS) and ACTAPS, providing a best practice quality mark for wills and estate administration advice that consumers can trust.

Get in touch with our contentious probate team

To speak to a member of our expert team about a will dispute, contact us today by calling 03456 381381 or email us at enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk.