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27 Sep 2021

Inheritance disputes reach record high in past year as Covid drives claims

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The number of inheritance disputes heard in the High Court reached an all-time high last year, shows research by Boodle Hatfield, the leading private wealth law firm.

There were 192 cases brought by individuals claiming to be entitled to a share or larger share of a deceased’s estate in 2020, up from the previous high of 188 in 2019 and up 50% compared with 2018.

Boodle Hatfield says the Covid-19 pandemic was a potentially significant factor in the high number of claims in 2020 and the full effect remains to be seen. On one hand, many people suffered business losses due to the lockdown. However, many estates benefitted significantly from rising house prices driven by the Stamp Duty holiday and the bull run in equities.

James Woods-Davison, Associate in the Private Wealth Disputes team says: “Those who have suffered financially due to the pandemic are likely to be even more motivated to seek a “fair” share of their inheritance.”

“Because estate administration takes time, the height of the pandemic may not yet be reflected in the number of claims”

Boodle Hatfield says social distancing requirements during lockdown are likely to have disrupted succession planning, which could lead to a higher number of disputes in future. For example, wills that were prepared and witnessed over video calls without careful planning, may potentially be easier to challenge in court than those witnessed in person.

Even when correct procedure has been followed, the Courts can intervene. James Woods-Davison explains: “Families can find, to their dismay, that meticulous succession planning can be overturned if a valid inheritance claim has been overlooked or ignored”.

Inheritance disputes climb to record high in 2020

This article was first covered in The Daily Telegraph and International Adviser on 27th September 2021.