How do you dispute a Will?
When people talk about ‘will disputes’ (in England & Wales) what they are actually referring to is usually one of 3 legal issues:
- Challenging the validity of a will (also called contentious probate)
- Bringing a claim for money or property against a deceased person’s estate (an Inheritance Act claim) or
- Having a dispute with the executor (if there’s a will) or administrator (if there’s no will i.e. an intestacy arises) about how the estate is being dealt with.
Knowing which of these issues you need advice about matters because the action you need to take to protect your position will be different depending on the situation.
If you’re arguing that a will is not valid then the main reasons for that would be:
- Lack of testamentary intention
- Lack of due execution
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Lack of knowledge and approval
- Undue influence
- Fraud and forgery
These are not straightforward arguments – you really need expert advice before you can know if you might have a claim. So it’s important to stop the will being ‘admitted to probate’ i.e. a Grant of Probate being taken out if you can as soon as possible after the deceased has died by entering a ‘caveat’. You can do this yourself, or you can instruct a solicitor to do it for you.
But – if your legal issue is that the Will is valid, but it just doesn’t provide properly for you, then you don’t want to put on a caveat at all. You need advice about putting in a claim under the Inheritance Act – and there’s a strict 6 month deadline for doing this, so again you need to do this as soon as you can after the death.
On the other hand, there are no deadlines at all for a dispute with an executor, if you are a beneficiary. But contrary to the popular view that an executor can be removed from their position because you don’t like them, in fact often the best way to ensure that an executor does what they are supposed to is to issue a summons for inventory and account.
Despite what you may come across on the internet, legal aid is not available for any of these claims. So, to ensure you get cost effective, practical advice it’s important to talk to a solicitor who specialises in this area of law.
Sarah Young is one of a limited number of lawyers in Yorkshire who specialise in contentious probate law, which includes advising on – amongst other matters – inheritance disputes, problems with executors and arguments involving trusts and the Court of Protection.