Contested Wills rise—and the pandemic is likely to make it rise further

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The number of contested Wills heard at the High Court reached an all-time record last year and experts reckon the number will rise, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

An article in YourMoney quoted from the Ministry of Justice, which revealed that in 2019 188 cases were brought by people who said they were entitled to a share or a larger share of an estate.

This figure was 128 in 2018 and 145 in 2017. The previous record was 158 in 2016. Legal experts reckon the lockdown in response to the pandemic will raise these figures even higher in 2020 because Wills had to be signed through windows or via video calls, which may result in questions about undue influence and capacity.

Further challenges down the line

Solicitors also warn that the financial downturn will lead to more challenges as people lose jobs and money.

Talking to YourMoney, Philip Collins, the head of the contested estates team at Winckworth Sherwood, said they weren’t at all surprised by the news and expected the number to increase further, although the vast majority of cases never reach the courts with most being settled before proceedings are issued.

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He added that claims involving an estate were “uniquely distressing” for everyone involved and potentially very expensive, and he urged people to try mediation as a way of resolving the issue.

The YourMoney article also cited delayed weddings was a potential cause to a spike in contested Wills. A London-based wedding planning app carried out a study and found that 64 percent of weddings in 2020 will be affected by postponements, cancellations or travel restrictions.

Little provision for cohabiting couples

With lockdown easing in England since 4 July, some 30 weddings have taken place but further localised or national lockdowns could cause more delays and cancellations. Should one half of the couple die before they are able to get married, this might cause issues for their intended partner, especially if the person who dies has no valid Will in place as there is little provision in English law for cohabiting couples.

Issues might arise if there are complicated family ties, such as children from other relationships or other family members. Experts say one way round this would be to draw up a cohabitation agreement, or a Will prepared ‘in contemplation of marriage’, which would not need to be updated again once the couple were married.