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Will disputes and contentious probate

Losing someone close to us is one of the most difficult things any of us will go through. It’s a stressful experience and one which can be made more difficult when there’s an ongoing dispute over the Will or how probate is being handled.

Whilst it isn’t unusual for disputes to arise between family members, executors or beneficiaries of the Will, it is important that these issues are dealt with quickly. This is why we recommend speaking to our expert inheritance dispute resolution team at the earliest opportunity, so we can help you find a positive solution as soon as possible.

Maybe you have concerns over the validity of the Will being used? Or perhaps you feel the inheritance you have been left is not sufficient to cover your needs? Do you believe there is an issue with the way probate is being dealt with? Or are you the Executor or estate administrator and need to deal with a dispute someone else has raised?

Whatever the situation, we can offer the clear, practical guidance you need to resolve the situation and move on, confident that the matter has been dealt with fairly and finally.

How our inheritance dispute resolution solicitors can help you

Our sympathetic and highly experienced inheritance dispute lawyers can help with all types of Wills and probate disputes. With strong expertise in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) we can usually resolve most disputes out of court, but we also have the skills and knowledge to give you the very best representation if court proceedings are required.

We can help you if:

  • You’ve been cut out of a Will
  • You’ve received less inheritance than expected
  • You’re the child, partner or spouse of the deceased
  • You were financially dependent on the deceased
  • You’re concerned about the validity of the Will, or if you suspect the Will is forged

We know that inheritance disputes are often about more than the immediate issues at hand, with many disputes rooted in existing family tensions and conflicts. Our team offer a compassionate, pragmatic approach, helping to resolve even the most challenging Wills and probate disputes effectively, preserving family relationships wherever possible.

Get in touch with our Will disputes + contentious probate solicitors in Bristol

To discuss your inheritance dispute in complete confidence, please call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.

Inheritance disputes FAQs

On what grounds can you contest a Will?

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.

How do you know if a Will is valid?

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.

How do Inheritance Act claims work?

To make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (commonly called an ‘Inheritance Act claim’) you will need to have been a dependant of the deceased and be able to show that the Will did not make reasonable provision for you.

People who might be able to make an Inheritance Act claim include:

  • The deceased’s spouse or civil partner
  • Someone cohabiting with the deceased
  • A child of the deceased who is still in full-time education

What is considered ‘reasonable provision’ in a Will?

This will depend entirely on the circumstances but is likely to take into account the financial support and other practical support the deceased would normally have provided to you, e.g. for accommodation, transport, living expenses and other costs, such as school or university fees.

Can you make an inheritance claim where there was no Will?

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.

Is there a time limit to contest a Will?

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.

Who is entitled to see a Will?

Until probate has been granted, only the named Executors of a Will are legally entitled to view it. Once probate has been granted, the Will becomes a public document and anyone can apply to the relevant Probate Registry for a copy.

In practice, most Executors will usually be willing to allow those with an interest in the estate to see a copy before probate has been granted, but they are under no legal obligation to do so.

What grounds are there for challenging probate?

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

How can you have the Executor of a Will removed during probate?

If you believe an Executor is failing in their duties, you may be able to apply to a court to have them removed and replaced. In most cases, this will mean the Executor being replaced with a professional Executor, such as a solicitor.

Is there a time limit for challenging probate?

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.

Can you prevent grant of probate?

If you wish to prevent probate being granted, you can do so by ‘entering a caveat’ at your local Probate Registry. This stops probate being granted for six months from the date the caveat is entered, unless you withdraw the caveat before this time. You can renew the caveat as many times as you like, meaning probate can effectively be delayed indefinitely if required.

Do you need to go to court to resolve an inheritance dispute?

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.

How can you avoid inheritance disputes?

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.

Blog article | Where there’s a Will… there’s a war

What to do if you want to dispute a Will or challenge probate?

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.

Our Wills disputes + contentious probate expertise

Our Wills and probate team contains a number of talented lawyers with many decades of experience between them. Many of our team are members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and several hold the STEP Advanced Certificate in advising vulnerable clients, so, no matter your needs, we can provide the right support for you.

We have a dedicated contentious probate specialist, Mark Scanlon, who offers exceptional litigation experience having trained as both a barrister and solicitor. Mark is able to use his expertise to offer the very best representation for our clients in a wide range of inheritance disputes.

Mark is an Associate of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), an affiliate member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and holds the STEP Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation.

Barkan+Kirby is Lexcel accredited by the Law Society, reflecting the strength of our practice management and customer care, and we are independently regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Contact our inheritance disputes solicitors in Bristol

For practical help and advice on any type of inheritance dispute, please speak to our specialist Will dispute solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire in complete confidence to find out more about your legal position and options.

You can call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form, and a member of our team will get back to you promptly.

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