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East Midlands law firm grows its contentious wills team after TV shows and rising property prices fuel an increase in cases

East Midlands law firm grows its contentious wills team after TV shows and rising property prices fuel an increase in cases

A current fad for TV shows featuring families wrangling over their inheritance is helping to fuel an increase in inquiries for contested wills cases, according to an East Midlands law firm.

Smith Partnership, which runs six offices across the region, says programmes such as The Inheritance and Inheritance Wars: Who Gets The Money? are encouraging people to step forward to seek their own legal advice after watching the shows.

The increase has helped accelerate an overall rise in the numbers of contested wills cases over the past couple of years, fuelled by a rise in house prices, people having got poorly written and DIY wills completed during the COVID pandemic and the changing nature of the modern family.

And it has prompted Smith Partnership to increase the number of people in its contested probate team from two to three, as it anticipates a further increase in inquiries over the next few years.

Both TV shows have hit the screens in 2023, shining a light on how badly written wills can be contested and their original provisions overturned.

While The Inheritance, which has just finished airing on Channel 5, is a fictitious drama, Inheritance Wars: Who Gets The Money?, also on Channel 5, investigates different families who are torn apart by inheritance disputes.

Among the cases explored in the series involved two brothers who lost their inheritance to an adopted sibling, which is the kind of issue which has inspired more people to mount a challenge to a loved one’s own last will and testament.

Alison Neate, who is head of professional liability at Smith Partnership and now takes on contested probate cases, said:

“These TV programmes are picking up on an increase in families who have been left unhappy by their relatives’ wills and are coming forward to contest them in bigger numbers than we have ever seen before.

“While they are certainly made for entertainment, there is definitely enough truth in the shows for viewers to understand how the industry works and what issues in their own lives might be worth challenging.

“It’s often been assumed that someone’s last will and testament is legally binding and can’t be challenged, but that’s not the case at all. With property prices now so high, plus people making bad wills during COVID and the changing nature of families, there are plenty of instances where people have the right to mount a challenge and seek a resolution that is fair and in their interest.”

Alison works alongside associate solicitor Victoria Townsend, who is an accredited member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), and trainee solicitor Sophie Wilson.

Victoria added:

“House prices have definitely driven the increase in these types of claims because, generally speaking, the main asset in a Deceased person’s estate will be their residential property and higher property values make challenging a parent or a relative’s will potentially more beneficial.

“The TV shows broadcast on Channel 5 give a great insight into the background of real-life claims. It is not surprising that these types of claims are becoming worthy of television, especially considering the complex and interesting family dispute elements that they entail.”

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