Where there’s a Will there doesn’t have to be a war

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By Daniel Russell

Anyone who has lost a close family member or friend will know only too well that a death can bring with it some of the most difficult and emotionally-charged periods in our lives.

In the immediate aftermath there are, among a great many other things to consider, death certificates to be acquired, the death to be registered and funeral arrangements to be made. At the very time when you most need space to grieve and process what has happened, the to-do list of largely unpleasant tasks seems to be unending.

And then, even when all of that is done, there is still the business of probate to attend to.

Disposing of a person’s estate can also be a sad and very emotional process, even when the deceased has left their affairs in order, their wishes are clear, and the process looks to be apparently straightforward.

But with the number of contested Wills in the UK growing each year, the scope for the deceased’s final wishes to be challenged and probate to be contested is very real, and if it happens then it will trigger a legal process that can be highly-charged and feel deeply personal to those on both sides of the argument.

Managed well, a contested Will still has the potential to leave emotional scars and bruises. Unmanaged or managed badly, its effects can devastate families and friendships, driving people further apart - and so it’s vital to get specialist and expert advice.

Having legal representation in contentious probate has several benefits. First, it removes you from the emotional white heat of the situation, protecting, as far as it’s possible to do so, both you personally as well any existing relationships you have with the other beneficiaries.

Your solicitor is also committed to serving your best interests, and these aren’t just limited to the proceeds of the estate in question.

There’s a point in any dispute where the financial or emotional cost of achieving a desired outcome outweighs the benefit of that outcome and so your solicitor should also be working with you to identify and then deliver a commercially sensible result on your behalf.

Because contentious probate often puts family members in opposition to one another, your solicitor should also be working objectively and dispassionately to avoid adding fuel to any potential fire, mindful of the need to try to protect or salvage relationships wherever possible.

As in most areas of dispute resolution, going to court is always a last resort because a satisfactory outcome is always more likely to be achieved while both sides have control of it.

Placed into the hands of a judge with wide discretion, there’s always risk that the decision imposed could be less favourable than you might want – and in the case of probate, it carries the possibility that you may be excluded from the estate entirely.

At Carlsons Solicitors, we explore all methods of alternative dispute resolution and we’re particular advocates of mediation. We’re proud to say we have a 100% settlement record in mediation across contested probate and all other contentious work where we represent the client.

It’s difficult enough losing someone you love, and contesting their Will is never going to be easy. But having specialist support when you need it can play a vital role in reducing the emotional cost of what is a challenging process.

Mark Norman