Will Disputes and Contentious Probate
Coping with bereavement is one of life's biggest challenges and is never easy, but matters can become even more difficult and emotive if there is an issue with the Will or over an Estate.
Contentious probate is any dispute relating to the administration of a deceased person's estate involving Wills, Probate, Trusts, or Powers of Attorney, including arguments between executors, trustees or attorneys. A dispute could relate to the amount you have been left, or not left in a Will, or where you are an executor or personal representative of an estate or there is a challenge to the Will or administration of an estate.
Disputes involving a Will or an estate are often complex, and anyone intending to make a claim or who may be involved in defending a claim should take legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
We will provide a professional, personal and sympathetic approach to help you achieve the best possible outcome to a contentious probate dispute. Our specialist team of lawyers can also advise and support with cases involving elderly care and financial abuse of the elderly. The team is committed to working quickly and efficiently to reach an outcome which will enable you to move on.
The most common areas for dispute relate to arguments over the validity of a Will and claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, as set out in turn below.
Validity of a Will
- Lack of Capacity
A person making a Will must have capacity, failing which it will be invalid, and the estate will be administered according to a previous valid Will or under the intestacy rules where there is no valid Will. A testator is expected to be able to provide clear instructions about the likely size of their estate, their executors and intended beneficiaries.
Factors affecting capacity include dementia, including through Alzheimer's disease, more severe mental health issues and may be temporary or permanent.
- Undue Influence
Where a person making a Will has been coerced, pressured or manipulated into making certain provisions in their Will, the Will is invalid, and the estate will be administered according to a previous valid Will or under the intestacy rules.
Undue influence is often difficult to identify, and sometimes it is not until the person dies that it becomes clear what has happened.
- Lack of Knowledge and Approval
A person might have capacity to make a valid Will but might not fully understand or approve of what the Will says when they sign it. If this is the case, the Will is invalid and the estate will be administered according to a previous valid Will or under the intestacy rules.
There are many factors which impinge on a person's understanding of the provisions in their Will, including issues of capacity and abuse.
Thankfully rarely, fraud can occur, for instance where a signature is forged, or an original Will is tampered with. In those circumstances, the Will is invalid, and the estate will be administered according to a previous valid Will or under the intestacy rules.
- Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
Where a person believes that their entitlement under a Will is insufficient, either because they have been left out or because they believe they are entitled to a greater share of an estate, they may have a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 ("the Inheritance Act").
Certain categories of beneficiary set out in the Inheritance Act may be entitled to inherit, and the Inheritance Act also seeks to protect the rights of those who were financially dependent on the deceased, including those who lived in property belonging to the deceased.
Claims under the Inheritance Act must be issued at Court within 6 months of a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration being issued, failing which a claimant will require the Court's permission, so it is important to take swift action.
To find out more or discuss your individual circumstances in further detail, contact us on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an Enquiry' form on our website.
We can carry out telephone or video appointments, reducing the need for face-to-face meetings in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Face-to-face meetings are available by appointment only at our Norwich, North Walsham, and Sheringham offices