If a dispute arises relating to the administration of a deceased person’s estate, this is known as Contentious probate (probate being the process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died).
The term covers a number of specific disputes, including the interpretation of a will or whether it is valid, a dispute between executors or beneficiaries, or a dispute over the value of estate assets.
Administering an estate, particularly where there are substantial or complex assets, can be a very complex and lengthy process, and disputes can often arise where there are concerns about the process of administration. Often, particularly where there is a dispute about the validity of a will, contentious probate claims involve very sensitive issues, and can be rooted in family disputes. Sometimes parties will have concerns about the deceased’s capacity at the time of making the will, that they were subjected to undue influence, or that they did not properly approve its content, which, if proven, could render a will invalid.
Executors are appointed under a will to act for the estate and are, therefore, expected to remain neutral in any dispute. However, often it is they who find themselves facing a claim brought against the Estate by beneficiaries, or third parties who consider that they should benefit. This can mean treading a delicate line between preserving the estate, whilst remaining neutral, so it is important to obtain expert advice at an early state.
How can I challenge the validity of a Will?
Challenging a Will of someone you cared about is not an easy task, but you may feel that the Will does not reflect what you believe were their true wishes.
Wills may be challenged for various reasons
In order to be valid, the person making the Will must be of sound mind, which is known as having mental capacity. There are several tests required as to whether a Will may be invalid on this basis and medical evidence is usually necessary to make a challenge based on incapacity.
This is a serious claim to make, and one which should only be made if there is substantial evidence to support it. The claim is based on evidence that the deceased was forced or coerced by another party or parties into making a Will against their wishes.
The contents of the Will was not understood or approved by the deceased
This ground for dispute focuses on the frailty of the deceased, and whether they were able to understand and approve the contents of the Will. For example, the deceased may have been hard of hearing, had very poor eyesight, had a low level of literacy, was vulnerable or weak, or may have asked someone else to sign the Will and therefore was not able to understand the contents of the Will.
Forged signature or fraud
A Will may be invalidated If evidence is available which shows that someone else impersonated the deceased and signed the Will instead of the deceased, or that the deceased was deceived by someone into making the Will.
Will has not been properly executed
There are legal requirements for the signing of a Will which must comply with the Wills Act 1937, if a Will has not been executed properly it may be set aside. The requirements include that the Will must be in writing, signed by the person making the Will (or another in their presence and under their direction) and in the presence of at least two independent witnesses who are present at the same time, and who must also witness and sign the Will.
If there has been a clerical error or if the deceased’s wishes were not understood, the Will may be rectified so as to correct the error which was made.
Contact Our Contentious Probate Solicitors
For initial advice or to arrange a meeting with one of our team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact 020 7631 4141 and ask to speak to our Contentious Probate team