The death of a loved one is a fraught and emotional time. Disputes over inheritance and wills often occur during this time of distress and vulnerability. Bringing a claim or contesting a will during this time is very demanding on both your time and emotions.
Seeking early and specialist legal advice can help make the process feel less stressful and demanding on your time. It can also help avoid litigation and the costs of having to go to court.
Our team is recognised by the independent legal directories Chambers UK and Legal 500 for contentious probate. We have been involved in many high profile cases, including the recent case of Heather Ilott which was heard by the Supreme Court in 2017.
We are often contacted by people who have started claims for contesting a will, sometimes based on raw emotion, grief and anger. In these cases, if people had sort legal advice at the outset, they could have saved themselves substantial time and money.
There are a wide range of reasons why disputes arise in a family and inheritance setting, each of these is unique to the family involved but broadly fall into the following categories:
- inheritance disputes between siblings
- disinherited by a family member
- invalid wills
- lack of provision for adult children
- contesting a will on the grounds of mental capacity
- fraud and forgery
- the will not reflecting the wishes of the deceased
- professional negligence from the solicitor who made the will
- undue influence upon the deceased
If you think you have grounds to contest a will then it is important to act fast, preferably before a grant of probate is obtained. If you are contesting a will believing it to be invalid, you can lodge a caveat which will prevent any grant of probate from issuing.
Before issuing proceedings in the High Court and incurring substantial costs, you should consider various other options. Legal action can slow down the receipt of any inheritance and can be costly for all parties involved.
Although there is no specific protocol for contesting a will, good practice includes the following:
- The early exchange of full information about the prospective legal claim.
- This enables parties to avoid litigation by agreeing a settlement of the claim before the commencement of proceedings.
- If litigation is inevitable, the above supports the efficient management of proceedings.
Wills and probate
A will is a legal document, which if drafted and executed correctly, distributes your property, money, assets etc, after your death. A will should state who is to inherit from your estate and the persons who are responsible for administrating the estate (known as Executors). The process of distributing the estate is known as probate.
Making a will
If you die without making a will, there are certain rules that have to be followed, these are the rules of intestacy and they dictate how your property and money will be distributed after your death. This may not be in accordance with your wishes and ultimately lead to an inheritance or will dispute following your death.
If you die without making a will, then everything you own could end up going to the State rather than your loved ones or the people, charities and organisations you intended to benefit.
In order to minimise the risk of a will being challenged after the you have died, a will should be drafted by a solicitor.