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Defending an Estate from a Dispute
If you are an executor of an estate (or an administrator if an intestacy arises) you may have to decide what to do if you are notified of a challenge to the estate.
It may not always be clear on what basis a challenge is being brought. In the early stages the challenger may not have very much information at all and may be asking you to provide them with documents and information.
To what extent should you pay attention to any letter you receive?
The general rule of thumb is that it is better to provide full and frank disclosure at an early stage to fend off potential claims against a deceased’s estate.
This is generally speaking a common sense approach – if information is not provided or withheld or a combative approach is adopted, the challenger instantly thinks that there is “no smoke without fire” and their belief that something is amiss is reinforced.
On the other hand an executor has a responsibility to the deceased and to the beneficiaries of the estate to ensure that they act reasonably and fairly and without incurring legal costs unnecessarily. Engaging with a disappointed beneficiary can be time consuming.
If a claim is potentially to be brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 there is a six month deadline for bringing a claim from the date of the grant of probate and so failure to provide information about, for example, the size and nature of the estate and the disposition of the deceased’s estate could lead to proceedings being issued at court.
There is no such deadline in relation to contentious probate proceedings (where the validity of a will is being challenged) but in all cases it is sensible for executors to take legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
You may receive a Larke v Nugus request – this is a letter requesting information about the circumstances under which instructions were taken for the preparation of a will and its execution. You should seek legal advice about this before responding.
It may be that someone who is challenging a will has entered a caveat to prevent a grant being taken out. It’s important to take action if a caveat has been lodged to file a Warning if you, as an executor consider that the caveat isn’t justified.
If the caveator then files a document called an Appearance that caveat remains in force for 6 months and at the end of that period can be renewed. Generally thereafter to remove a caveat requires a consent summons to be filed with the Probate Registry signed by both parties – so it’s important to get legal advice as otherwise there could be significant delay in administering the estate.
It’s very important when you are defending an estate from a claim that you have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the claimant’s case. However it is also vital that an executor should remain neutral with regard to any claim that is brought. That can be very difficult if the executor personally feels very strongly about the claim. If you are a beneficiary as well as an executor then it’s very important that you understand the nature of your responsibilities in both capacities and that that is made clear in any correspondence.
If the claim that is being pursued has merit then it’s wise to negotiate an out of court settlement by mediation or otherwise as soon as possible.
Sarah Young, Contentious Probate Solicitor
What our clients say:
My first meeting with Sarah Young was really great. She seemed to care about my situation and gave good advice on what we should expect throughout our case. My case has now come to an end thanks to Sarah. I would highly recommend her services to others in similar situations.
My claim was handled very professionally and dealt with really well and quickly on Sam’s part I appreciate all that Sam and the team did.
I can’t thank you enough for the way the claim was handled. After being in the accident, the thought of making a claim seemed like a lengthy and quite daunting procedure to take on, but you were really helpful and communication was brilliant throughout the whole thing. There was never a point where I felt confused or left in the dark about anything that was unfolding with the claim and the way you handled things was amazing! A cyclist who was involved in an accident with a motorist. Samantha Hirst at Ridley and Hall successfully negotiated a settlement with the motorist’s insurance company.
The case concluded as hoped. I was at all times treated with courtesy, consideration and empathy by Sarah Young who was at all times professional yet approachable in all matters relating to a very complex case. I personally thank her on behalf of myself and children for the way she conducted my case which brought great relief and a most satisfactory conclusion and will help us move forward.