| 6.6°C Dublin

Legal challenges to wills soaring since collapse of domestic property market

THE collapse in the property market has sent the number of wills being challenged in court through the roof -- almost 70 per cent more wills ended up in the High Court in 2009 than in 2008, according to figures from the Courts Service.

The rise is only the tip of the iceberg, with the vast majority of contentious cases settled just before reaching court.

There has been an upswing in contested wills in the past two years among a certain age group, according to probate law specialist Fintan Lawlor.

"They are usually disputes between middle-aged and elderly siblings contesting a parent's estate and we have four such cases on the go at the moment," says Lawlor, a partner with Dublin solicitors Lawlor Partners. He believes the number of wills contested is linked to the housing market collapse.

"Before, you may have had an estate worth €1m -- now that estate might be worth €600,000. One beneficiary may have had their beady eye on 20 per cent, which would have been €200,000 -- but is now only worth €120,000. They still want the larger sum, but the costs of actually going to court are prohibitive."

Judges will have the power to refer a case to mediation from next year, which should see a fall in the number of will challenges going to the courts.

Former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith was involved in the most high profile row over a will, when her 89-year-old husband died soon after marrying her. His will, in which he left the ex-stripper a fortune, was contested by his family. The legal wrangling has continued even after Smith's death in 2007.

Sunday Indo Business