A Contest of Wills: Over 12 million Brits prepared to fight the division of loved ones' estates


  • A quarter of Brits would be prepared to contest a loved one’s will if they were unhappy with it
  • Family legal specialists identify “undue influence” as the most common grounds for contesting a will
  • 6 per cent increase in a single year for people contesting grants of probate      
  • Brits spend over £160,000 entering caveats to contest probate applications


Over 12.6 million (24 per cent) people would seek to dispute the wishes of a loved one by going to court to challenge the bequests in their will, if they disagreed with the division of their estate reveals new research1 from Direct Line Life Insurance. 

Research amongst family law professionals2 reveals the most common reason for contesting a will in the UK is on the grounds of ‘undue influence’, where the deceased was forced to sign a will or unreasonable pressure was placed upon them.  However, according to legal experts, contesting wills on the grounds of ‘undue influence’ are the least successful petitions, as the burden of proof is high, and it falls on the person challenging the will to prove undue influence3

Other successful grounds for contesting wills are highlighted as ‘testamentary capacity,’ where the mental and legal ability of a person to make or alter their will is challenged.  The third most successful grounds are for ‘rectification and construction’ claims, if a clerical error was made in the drafting of the will or the person drafting it failed to reflect the intentions of the testator.  

Rank Most common grounds for contesting a will Most successful grounds for contesting a will
1 Undue influence Lack of knowledge and approval 
2 Lack of knowledge and approval  Testamentary capacity
3 Fraudulent wills and forged wills
Rectification and construction claims
4 Lack of valid execution Provision for family and dependents 
5 Testamentary capacity Lack of valid execution 
6 Rectification and construction claims Fraudulent wills and forged wills 
7 Provision for family and dependents Undue influence

Analysis4 of figures supplied by HM Courts and Tribunals service shows the number of disputes regarding applications for probate increased by an estimated 6 per cent5 in 2018.   With each applicant attempting to stop a probate application “entering a caveat” costing £20 each, Brits are spending in excess of £160,000 a year on this process excluding the cost of any legal fees.  In 2017, there were 8,159 caveats registered to block a grant of probate.  Brits are registering caveats for such concerns as whether the will is legal, whether the deceased was of sound mind (mentally competent when the will was made), or as a result of disputes over who applied for a grant of probate. 

Jane Morgan, Business Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “While our research reveals people are increasingly contesting wills, everyone has the right to choose how they’d like to distribute their assets, even if it seems unusual or excludes even the closest family members.  People can be surprised and hurt by the contents of a will, so people may wish to discuss with beneficiaries and those that might think they would inherit, how they plan to distribute their assets.  Those who do wish to leave an additional provision beyond the assets in their estate should consider investing in a life insurance policy, as it can offer additional financial support for loved ones when someone passes away.”     

 Regional findings

Almost a third (31 per cent) of the residents of Southampton would be prepared to ignore the wishes of a loved one if they felt they were being unfairly excluded from their will and would contest seek to contest it in court.  Residents of London are the most likely to contest the will of a parent if they disagree with the division of the estate, with 21 per cent willing to head to court to secure what they feel is their fair share.  Almost one in five (18 per cent) residents of Norwich would contest the will of their partner if they didn’t agree with the division of assets.  

City Percentage of residents that are willing to contest their parent's will  Percentage of residents that are willing to contest their partner's will  Percentage of residents that would contest a loved one's will
London 21 per cent  12 per cent 29 per cent
Southampton 20 per cent 12 per cent 31 per cent
Norwich 19 per cent 18 per cent 29 per cent
Nottingham 19 per cent 9 per cent 20 per cent
Cardiff  17 per cent 7 per cent 25 per cent
Manchester 15 per cent 12 per cent 22 per cent
Liverpool 14 per cent 15 per cent 21 per cent
Bristol 13 per cent 15 per cent 15 per cent
Leeds 13 per cent 13 per cent 21 per cent
Glasgow 12 per cent 3 per cent 15 per cent
Newcastle 12 per cent 17 per cent 23 per cent
Birmingham 11 per cent 11 per cent 26 per cent
Plymouth 11 per cent 15 per cent 24 per cent
Brighton 10 per cent 16 per cent 26 per cent
Edinburgh 9 per cent 8 per cent 20 per cent
Belfast 5 per cent 9 per cent 17 per cent
Sheffield 5 per cent 1 per cent 11 per cent

For more information on life insurance, please visit: https://www.directline.com/life-cover/family-financial-planning

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Notes to Editors

1.       Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,003 adults between 27th – 30th July 2018

2.       Research conducted by PureProfile among 102 family law practitioners between 15th and 24th October 2018

3.       https://www.kingsleynapley.co.uk/insights/blogs/dispute-resolution-law-blog/disputing-a-will-based-on-undue-influence-a-challenge-for-claimants

4.       Freedom of Information Act (2000) request made by Direct Line Life Insurance to HM Courts & Tribunals Service October 2018

5.       Please note analysis completed on a pro-rata basis as the dataset supplied by HM Courts & Tribunals Service only includes the first 9 months of data for 2018

For further information please contact:

Simon Henrick

Head of News

Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 831 668

Email: [email protected]

Katie Ormrod

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Tel: 0207 282 1023

Email: [email protected]


Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel, pet and life insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

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