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More people go to court over family members' wills

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A growing number of individuals are taking will-related disputes to the High Court. Recent figures have indicated that the number of cases rose to 178 last year, which represents an increase of over 80 per cent from the previous year.

The figure is the highest recorded since 2007, and the nationwide surge in property prices is being cited as one of the key reasons behind the trend for children and other family members choosing to contest a will.

Numerous court challenges have been covered by the media over the last few months, such as the case of Heather Ilott.

Ms Ilott was awarded money from her estranged mother’s will by the Court of Appeal, despite the fact that the will clearly stipulated for her £500,000 estate to be given to animal charities.

The judgment went against the legal stance of “testamentary freedom” in England and Wales, which means that a person should be free to leave their estate to any party or parties they choose.

It is crucial that a will is drawn up so that intended legacies are explained, which is particularly helpful in cases where one sibling will inherit more than another, if, for example, one is financially more stable than the other or has contributed more to a family business.

Following the rise in legal disputes, anyone looking to draw up or review an existing will is being advised to meet their solicitor at an appointment they attend on their own, with no assistance from friends or family, so no future claims can be made about unfair influence.

As well as giving clear explanations for why someone is to be excluded from a will, if an individual is aged over 70, or has a history of mental illness, obtaining a “capacity report” from a GP is important for the will-maker to prove that they are of sound mind. If a will is contested in the future by a claimant who asserts otherwise, this medical evidence will be used to ensure it is adhered to.