Judge criticises inheritance legal costs

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A High Court judge has said he was astonished by the costs estimate of £74,000 for a one-day hearing about an application in a dispute over inheritance.

An article in the Law Gazette reported that in the Weisz v Weisz & Ors case, Mr Justice Francis heard an application for interim provision pursuant to section 5 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. While the judgment was handed down in October, it was only published last week.

The hearing had been listed for two hours but ended up lasting a day. Francis J said that in most cases where the time estimate was “obviously hopeless”, it was very likely the cases would be sent out without being heard even if the matter was urgent, unless it related to the welfare or danger to a child. Counsel had been lucky because one of the cases listed that day was not effective.

Concern expressed at levels of cost

He expressed concern at the levels of the costs for the application. The claimant’s costs, which were just for today and not the claim overall, were just over £18,000. The costs of the third and fourth defendants in the case—two of the children of the deceased—were almost £38,000.

He added that he had been told the executors of the estate did not even know what their costs of that day were. If any lawyers in the court appeared in front of him again not knowing what their costs for an application, he warned, he would have far more to say about it than what he had said then.

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If he took the executors’ costs as being the same as the claimant’s, then that meant that the overall costs for the day were in the order of £74,000. He noted that the claimant in the case had instructed much less expensive solicitors than the third and fourth defendants.

‘Disproportionate’

The claimant was claiming a total of £75,000 as a lump sum and £8,511 a month and Francis J said that it could not be proportionate for “so much money to be spent on this issue”. He thought it “very sad” that the parties had not been able to settle the application that day.

The judge emphasised he was not criticising any one person in particular but that he hoped the parties involved reflected on the fact that had they been disputing a commercial deal and not a family matter they would not have spent as much money on the case. Such expenses would not have made commercial sense. He advised them to stand back and take a commercial view of the case if they wanted to resolve it. He also drew attention to the benefits of private family dispute resolution or mediation.

 

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