(C) KJB-photography 2010“Blended families” are partly the cause of the steep rise in the number of wills being contested in court, according to leading Darlington law firm Latimer Hinks.

Latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show a staggering 83% rise in probate disputes in the High Court.

Anne Elliott, Latimer Hinks CEO, said: “It’s a startling increase and it’s just the tip of the iceberg, considering the vast majority of cases never reach the High Court.

“But, as family relationships become more complex, it’s perhaps inevitable that more wills are contested. Most of the cases of disputed wills that we deal with as a firm relate to families which have complicated structures.

“It might be that a step parent doesn’t leave anything to their late spouse’s children or it could be that a parent decides they don’t want to include their own child in their will because they haven’t had contact with them for many years.

“Wherever someone feels aggrieved or left out, there is a chance that a will could be contested.”

The recently released statistics show that 178 probate disputes were heard in the High Court in 2014, compared to 97 in 2013, but many cases don’t get that far.

Latimer Hinks has seen a spike in inheritance-related enquiries since the controversial Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year in favour of Heather Ilott, who had been written out of her late mother’s will.

Melita Jackson left her £489,000 fortune to three animal charities rather than her only daughter. But after an 11-year battle, the Court of Appeal, in a landmark decision, awarded Heather a £164,000 share of her mother’s estate.

Anne added: “Although that case did not set any legal precedent, it has raised the profile of disputes brought about where a dependent does not believe that reasonable provision has been made in a will.

“Everyone should do their best to try and avoid problems arising after their death. Everyone should draw up a will and, most importantly, keep it under review, making their intentions as clear as possible. The Ilot case highlights the importance of not just setting out your wishes, but justifying them. Experienced lawyers can help provide you with peace of mind so that after your death the risk of the will being contested is minimised.”