Contentious Probate – Disputing an Estate 

Contentious probate solicitors assist with resolving disputes concerning the distribution of an individual’s estate when they are deceased. Estate administration can often be a very lengthy and complex process, which can turn acrimonious, especially when questions are raised over the validity of a Will or family members feel they have been unfairly left out of an expected inheritance.

Furthermore, there has been a steady increase in contentious probate cases over the last few years, and many more people are challenging Wills. A survey of 2,000 people, commissioned by the life insurance company Direct Line in 2019, found that a quarter of UK adults were willing to challenge a relative’s Will in court if they disagreed with the division of the estate. 

In this article, we look at a few frequently asked questions regarding contentious probate and contesting a Will.

What are common reasons for inheritance disputes? 

There are several reasons behind challenging a Will or raising a probate dispute. Some of the most common probate disputes are due to:

  • Disputes regarding the value of assets
  • Executor Disputes
  • Disputes regarding the beneficiaries of a Will
  • Disputes regarding Trusts
  • The interpretation of a Will

Under what conditions can a Will be challenged?

To challenge a Will, there are several grounds on which it can be contested, and you must have a valid legal reason to do so. Some of the most common reasons why a Will might be invalid include:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity – where someone did not have the mental or legal ability to make a Will at the time of executing the Will
  • Lack of valid execution – where a Will is drawn up without the proper legal requirements or formalities.
  • Lack of knowledge and approval – if the person making the Will was not aware of its contents
  • Undue influence – where someone is manipulated or pressured to write a Will or change the contents of an existing one
  • Fraud or forgery – if someone fakes a Will in someone’s name, forges their signature or uses false information about another beneficiary to make the testator cut them out of the Will

If the Will is valid, but you have not received what you expected, you could make a claim under The Inheritance Act 1975. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”) allows a Will (or the intestacy rules) to be disputed on the basis that it fails to adequately provide for certain categories of people (referred to as eligible claimants). This can include one of the following:

  • A spouse of the deceased.
  • A former spouse of the deceased. This only applies if you have not remarried.
  • A partner who lived with the deceased for at least two years immediately before death.
  • A child of the deceased.
  • A person who was treated as a child by the deceased and family of the deceased.
  • Someone who was financially supported by the deceased.

Applicants falling under these categories must demonstrate that the provision made is not reasonable, or there was no provision at all. How the court considers what is ‘reasonably necessary’ or how they will make an award can involve various complex factors.

It is essential to seek legal advice as soon as possible about whether such a claim is valid and whether there is any merit in contesting a Will. Claims under this Act must be issued at court within six months of the date of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

What is Proprietary estoppel?

The other possible contentious probate claim that may be appropriate for you is a ‘proprietary estoppel’ claim. Proprietary estoppel is when the testator gives an assurance or promise to you during his/her lifetime that you would receive the estate (or part of the estate), that you relied on that promise or assurance and in doing so, you suffered some detriment or disadvantage by not receiving the promised gift in the testator’s final Will.

How can you resolve Will or Probate disputes?

  • Instruct specialist contentious probate lawyers– seeking early advice from a specialist probate solicitor can help to deal with a Will or inheritance dispute. At Larcomes, our experienced Wills and Probate team can ensure that every detail is covered, advising you if there is a legitimate cause for a Will to be disputed and that your legal rights are fully respected. We can also help if you are an executor that needs support to distribute the estate properly.
  • Effective dispute resolution – where possible, we will work with you to find a solution that allows the dispute to be settled out of court, advising on the various types of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms available to you. If this is not possible, we have the knowledge and experience to represent you in the courts.

Specialist Wills and Probate Solicitors 

As a firm, Larcomes Legal Limited are fully regulated and Lexcel Law Society Accredited.

We have helped many clients over the years to resolve their inheritance and Will disputes using mediation and other methods of resolution. Regardless of the complexity of the estate or whether you are an executor or beneficiary, Larcomes disputed Wills and trusts team provides specialist advice and assistance with contentious probate and administration disputes.

Get in touch with our Contentious Probate Team

Contentious probate is a highly complex area of law, and our specialist team at Larcomes can provide you with clear, up-to-date, professional advice. To speak with one of our team, please get in touch with us on 023 9244 8100 or make an online enquiry.

Please note that this article is meant as general guidance and not intended as legal or professional advice. Updates to the law may have changed since this article was published.