Will Disputes and Contentious Probate
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is hard enough, without having to contemplate a dispute over their Will or estate. Our dispute resolution solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are specialists in resolving Will, estate, and trust disputes.
Whether you are disputing a Will, claiming against an estate, or challenging executors as part of the estate administration process, our specialist solicitors can advise you on the process, including if you have sufficient grounds, the costs involved, and how long it is likely to take.
Our inheritance and Will disputes expertise
Challenging executors and trustees
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 an executor or trustee has acted improperly, our expert team can advise on the making of an application to court to remove them.
Beneficiaries have the right to see some, but not necessarily all, of the documents relating to the estate or trust administration. 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, our trust solicitors are here to help. Alternatively, if you’re a trustee and you’re receiving requests for information from beneficiaries, but are unclear on issues of confidentiality, we can advise you on any next steps. Our experienced team can help beneficiaries seeking information and trustees with concerns about disclosure.
Contesting an estate
If you believe that you have been left out entirely of a loved one’s Will (or there is no will), or you feel the inheritance you have been left is too small, you may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The 1975 Act provides legal recourse for spouses, children, and other dependants who find themselves in a situation where a loved one has died without leaving any or sufficient financial provision for them.
Our experienced estate dispute solicitors can advise you on contesting a Will, including checking that the Will itself is legally valid, i.e. whether a Will has been witnessed and signed correctly or whether any signatures may have been forged, and considering whether you have sufficient grounds to challenge the Will.
Estate administration disputes
The estate administration process can be lengthy and involve numerous executors and beneficiaries, each with their own expectations, and so it’s no surprise that disputes can arise.
Our dispute resolution solicitors can advise executors who believe beneficiaries are not cooperating or providing the necessary information needed to administer the estate. Equally, we can help beneficiaries who consider that an executor is being obstructive or uncommunicative and thus delaying the administration process.
Charity legacy disputes
Charity donations are not uncommon in Wills and charities themselves are placing increasing reliance on monies received from estates. The deceased may have chosen to give all of their money to a cause they felt passionately about or a portion of their estate once their loved ones have had their share.
Sadly, charities can be faced with family members contesting the Will due to a charitable donation, simply because they believe they are not getting all they believe they are entitled to receive.
Charities choose to defend or bring proceedings in relation to an estate, in the same way an individual might do. Our dispute resolution solicitors can advise charities on such legacy disputes.
Our specialist estate dispute solicitors can also advise on:
- 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
Mark’s ability to see through the most complex arguments presented by the opposite side and to disseminate information quickly but without legal jargon for me was an absolute godsend. He is, at all times, mindful of costs. Mark is clear about every detail and even upon a phone call out of the blue, has excellent recall skills, enabling him to discuss finite details of my case with me. He was sensitive to my grief and over the three years that this has taken, I have found Mark Scanlon not just a terrific lawyer, but a man who makes his client feel fully supported every single step of the way. He always puts forward the scenario I/we are hoping the outcome for, along with the scenario we might get instead.
As a client, I have always felt fully confident in Mark’s ability to represent me in what has been a very contentious and complex dispute. Mark is always clear, honest and approachable. I cannot recommend Mark Scanlon highly enough to anyone needing the finest representation in the most contentious situation.
I went to Giles Woodward after the sudden death of my mother when the solicitor she used had lost her Will. This was not Giles’ area of law and when it became clear there was going to be contention over the Will and the Executor, he referred me to Mark Scanlon at their Queen Square office.
I once again felt safe, advised well, looked after properly and sensitively at a time of such grief and acrimony caused by a family member. This was an awful and difficult case that included childhood control and abuse by an uncle who, due to the finding of a very old Will, took over as Executor. It was untenable for me. The fair and reasonable charges were also manageable for me, enabling me to fight for what felt right – to remove my uncle as Executor. At all times, I felt looked after. I would always highly recommend Barcan+Kirby.”
– Inheritance dispute client
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 a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, depending on the circumstances.
The time limit for a 1975 Act claim is normally six months from a full 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 court, but there is no guarantee that such an application will succeed.
If you wish to challenge 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 invalid, fraudulent or otherwise, then there is no time limit for bringing a claim. However, you must act promptly.
If you believe the Executor or Estate Administrator is acting inappropriately, you may be able to bring court action to have them removed.
Grounds for 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
Depending on the type of challenge, if you wish to make a claim in relation to how the Executor or Estate Administrator has handled probate, you may need to do so within six years from the date upon which the cause of action accrued.
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.
Here are our top tips for making the process more effective and easier on yourself:
- 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.
Get in touch with our inheritance and Will dispute solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire
For practical help and advice, speak to our specialist dispute resolution solicitors. We will guide you through the process and work with you to secure a positive outcome.