THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE IS DISTRESSING ENOUGH, WITHOUT UNCERTAINTY OVER THEIR FINAL WISHES – BUT WILL DISPUTES ARE MORE COMMON THAN PEOPLE THINK.
Discovering that the provision made in a Will isn’t what you were expecting can come as a great shock. Whether it’s the sudden discovery that you have been left out of a Will or that a person or organisation has been unexpectedly included, a Will dispute can be a time of great stress and anxiety.
Although any Will can be challenged in UK law, a Will can only be successfully disputed on one or more of five very specific grounds, which you will then have to prove.
There are some circumstances which people mistakenly believe are a valid reason to dispute a Will but which, in law, have little to no chance of being successful on their own.
Reasons for challenging a Will that are likely to be unsuccessful unless one of the specific grounds is satisfied include:
Unfair treatment: this is a common area of dispute and might typically revolve around the way one sibling has been recognised over another in the Will;
You received a verbal promise from the deceased: the law doesn’t recognise verbal promises. Broadly speaking, if it’s not in the Will, your claim will almost certainly be unsuccessful;
A non-blood relative has inherited everything: this can be the biggest bone of contention in a Will dispute and typically involves a stepparent inheriting most or all of an estate. Acrimony is particularly high if the deceased parent had remarried very recently. On it’s own, this is not grounds for a successful challenge to the Will.
The whole family has been disinherited: whilst rare, this is not without precedent and often happens when someone leaves their entire estate to charity – but again, on its own it is not enough to successfully challenge the Will.
Our specialist Will disputes solicitors will be able to tell you very quickly if you have legitimate cause to challenge the Will and they’ll also be able to advise you on the best course of action given the options available to you.
The legitimate grounds that may allow our Wills dispute lawyers to help you successfully contest a Will are:
LACK OF TESTAMENTARY CAPACITY
In simple terms, a challenge on these grounds requires you to prove the person making the Will (or testator) lacked the mental capacity to understand what they were doing.
DURESS OR UNDUE INFLUENCE
There is a subtle but important difference to the two definitions. Duress relates to threats of physical harm to the person making the Will, whilst undue influence relates to someone in a position of trust working to influence the distribution of the estate.
Fraud commonly takes the form of making changes to the document either by inserting or replacing pages or forging signatures. Fraud also extends to the testator making changes to their Will in good faith as a result of misinformation presented to them.
By law, a Will must be signed by two independent witnesses who have nothing to gain from the estate in question. Like the testator, those individuals must also have the mental capacity to act as witnesses.
It’s important to remember that should you witness a Will in which you are named as a beneficiary, you will not be able to inherit.
INADEQUATE PROVISION FOR DEPENDENTS
Although someone may choose to disinherit their entire family, close family may apply for a share of the estate on the basis that the Will doesn’t reasonably provide for a relative or dependent. Disputing a Will on this basis would still require you to demonstrate that your treatment was unfair.
As a general rule, any challenge to a Will must be made within six months of probate being granted, although there is no time limit on a challenge made on the basis of suspected fraud.
Our specialist Will disputes solicitors can advise you on whether you have realistic cause to challenge a Will and will also explain the likely advantages and disadvantages of pursuing your claim against the estate.
For more information or to speak to one of our Will disputes solicitors in London, please get in touch with us. Our offices are based in Whetstone, North London and Chancery Lane, Central London (by appointment only).