Will Disputes and Contentious Probate
Our dispute resolution solicitors in Bristol are specialists in resolving Will, estate and trust disputes.
We’re increasingly being asked for advice on challenging executors and trustees. If your issue is around removing or replacing trustees, or you have concerns that a trustee or executor has acted improperly, we can make an application to court to remove them.
When it comes to beneficiaries, they have the right to see some – but not all – of the documents relating to the estate or trust. If you need advice and support in enforcing your rights, speak to our specialist estate dispute lawyers.
If you’re a beneficiary and you have concerns about the way in which the trustees are dealing with the trust, speak to our trust solicitors. Alternatively, if you’re a trustee and you’re receiving requests for information from beneficiaries but unclear on issues of confidentiality, we can help. Our experienced team can help beneficiaries seeking information and trustees with concerns about disclosure.
Our areas of expertise include:
- obtaining disclosure from executors/trustees
- the procedure for removing trustees and executors
- advising on the merits of applications to remove
- drafting documents for retiring and new trustees (Deeds of Retirement and Appointment)
- indemnities on removal or retirement
Estate disputes FAQs
There are two main reasons for challenging a Will:
- If there is reason to believe the Will does not truly reflect the wishes of the deceased
- If someone feels they have not been left a sufficient inheritance to meet their needs
There are various reasons why a Will might be considered to not properly reflect the deceased’s wishes, e.g. if you believe the deceased lacked mental capacity at the time the Will was created or that they were coerced into changing their Will.
If you believe the inheritance you have been left is too small, or you have been left out of the Will entirely, you may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This allows dependants of the deceased to make a claim for ‘reasonable provision’ from the estate if the Will has failed to provide this.
For a Will to be considered legally valid, the person making it (the ‘testator’) must have been:
- 18 or over
- Acting voluntarily
- Of sound mind
The Will itself must have been:
- Made in writing
- Signed in the presence of two witnesses (both aged 18 or over)
- Signed by the two witnesses in the presence of the testator
Any changes made to the Will must be carried out with the same signing and witnessing process.
If the Will fails to meet these standards, then it can be set aside and an earlier Will used in its place, or the deceased’s estate can be dealt with under the rules of intestacy.
Yes, if the deceased failed to leave a Will and so their estate is being dealt with through the rules of intestacy, you may still be able to make an Inheritance Act claim, depending on the circumstances.
The time limit for Inheritance Act claims is normally six months from Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. It may sometimes be possible to make a claim outside of this time limit with the permission of the relevant court, but there is no guarantee that this will be granted.
If you wish to question the validity of the Will, it is usually simpler to do this before probate has been granted. However, if you believe the Will being used or that was used for probate is fraudulent, then there is no time limit for bringing a claim.
If you believe the Executor or Estate Administrator is acting inappropriately, you may be able to bring court action to have them removed.
Grounds to having an Executor or Estate Administrator removed might include:
- Where they are spending funds from the estate inappropriately
- Where they do not appear to make taking the required actions to progress probate
- Where there are excessive delays between grant of probate and the bequests being distributed
- Where the Executor/Estate Administrator cannot produce proper estate accounts on request
If you wish to make a claim in relation to how the Executor or Estate Administrator has handled probate, you will usually need to do so within six years of probate being granted.
The majority of inheritance disputes are resolved out of court through negotiation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, such as mediation. This allows you to agree on a settlement that works for everyone while avoiding the need for court proceedings.
Out-of-court settlements for inheritance disputes are generally faster and less costly to achieve than going to court, while also helping to avoid unnecessary conflict, which can cause long-term damage to key family relationships.
A Will is a legal document. If it’s drafted and executed correctly, your property, assets, money and personal belongings will go to the people you intended. However, if it’s drafted incorrectly the Will can be challenged. Therefore, the simplest way to avoid an inheritance dispute after you are gone is to make sure your Will is correctly drafted and executed.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you discuss the contents of your Will with your dependants and anyone else who might have reason to believe they would be in line to inherit. This can help to avoid disappointment when the details of the Will are made known after your death, thus reducing the likelihood of a challenge being made.
We appreciate this can be a confusing time and the thought of making a challenge can be intimidating, especially where you are concerned about causing damage to important family relationships.
The following are some of our top tips for making the process easier on yourself and more effective, giving you a better chance of achieving the outcome you want to see.
- Act promptly. Irrespective of the nature of the dispute, timescales are always important and any delay may be detrimental.
- In any estate dispute, it’s important to get some basic information together at the outset, where possible. Be clear on the date of death and the date of any grant (a legal document confirming a person’s authority to deal with the estate). In addition to knowing the important dates, you will need several key documents. These usually include the death certificate, the Will, the grant, and any land registry documents.
- Get legal advice before involving other parties in the dispute. There may be readily available answers to the questions that have provoked a dispute. It is important to know whether there is a genuine dispute or little more than a misunderstanding.
- Give yourself time to make enquiries. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to put things on hold (to maintain the status quo) and protect the estate, so that questions can be raised and answers provided in good time.
- Ask yourself whether this is a dispute between parties that you might be able to resolve by reaching an agreement and, if not, whether it may be necessary to ask the court to make a decision. Not all estate disputes need a court to intervene.
- Try to remain calm. Estate disputes inevitably take place during periods of great distress and heightened emotions, around which people cannot necessarily be expected to act as they would usually. Be sensitive to the circumstances, whilst remaining clear on your position. A solicitor can often present a neutral face, taking a balanced, independent approach to resolution.
The main points to remember are to act quickly and get legal advice early. Be aware that not all estate disputes involve a Will. Disputes also occur where there is not a Will, known as an intestate estate. Even where there is a Will, not all disputes are about whether that document is invalid. Many other types of claims can arise upon the death of a person, even if their Will is not an issue.
Our dedicated Wills, trusts and probate team act for the personal representatives of estates, dealing with the administration, as well as beneficiaries and those seeking an interest.
For practical help and advice, speak to our specialist estate and trustee solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We’ll guide you through the process and work with you to secure a positive outcome.