Probate is the legal right to deal with the estate of someone who has died. A person will often use their will to specify who should inherit their estate on their death. If they die intestate (i.e. without leaving a will), the law intervenes and sets out the order of beneficiaries according to the Rules of Intestacy. The probate process is confusing and arduous and arises at what is already an incredibly stressful time. Complex rules and procedures apply, and those responsible for the administration of an estate can be held personally liable for failing to execute their duties with due care and skill. With these factors at play, it is not surprising that disputes often arise. There may be questions regarding the validity of a will, for example, or concerns over the mismanagement of an estate. Our Norwich-based contested probate solicitors are highly skilled in dealing with probate, inheritance and succession disputes and approach each one with the appropriate sensitivity, giving clear advice to ensure disputes are dealt with as efficiently and amicably as possible.
What Is Contested Probate?
Probate can be contested for a variety of reasons. Whilst large or complex estates often have the potential to lead to more disputes, issues can arise in respect of any estate. There has been a rise in contested probate cases in recent years due to factors including an upsurge in do-it-yourself wills, which may lack clarity, and an increase in more complex family structures – remarriage, co-habitation, stepfamilies and the like.
Examples of the types of disputes our contested wills and probate solicitors regularly deal with are –
Issues relating to the validity of a will – In order to be valid, a will needs to meet specific criteria; if there are concerns that it does not, its validity can be challenged. One such criterion is that the deceased was of sound mind at the time of making their will; so if they suffered from dementia, for example, the will may be invalid for reasons of incapacity. Another criterion is that the will was made voluntarily. If the contents come as a surprise and there is reason to suspect that the deceased was coerced into including or excluding particular beneficiaries, the will can be challenged on the grounds of undue influence. If a will is invalid for these or any other reason, the estate will be administered under the terms of any earlier will or, in the absence of such, the Rules of Intestacy. A contested probate solicitor will examine a will and advise on the viability of contesting probate on the basis of invalidity.
Claims against an executor or administrator relating to the alleged mismanagement of an estate- if an executor or administrator fails to carry out their tasks with the required level of care and skill, they can be removed from office and held personally liable to beneficiaries or other third parties who have suffered losses. Our contested wills and probate solicitors have vast experience in claims concerning the mismanagement of an estate, having acted both for executors and administrators, and affected third parties.
Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents Act) 1975 – if the terms of a will or the Rules of Intestacy do not provide you with ‘reasonable financial provision’, you may be able to challenge the distribution of an estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents Act) 1975. The Inheritance Act specifies categories of people who can bring a claim including a spouse or civil partner, a child and anyone financially dependent on the deceased. Anyone other than a spouse or civil partner has to show a genuine need for financial help from the estate to cover their maintenance; if they were financially independent of the deceased during their lifetime, this can be difficult to establish. The law is more generous to spouses and civil partners who can bring a claim regardless of whether the financial support sought is required to meet their basic maintenance requirements.
The types of relief that a Court may grant under the Inheritance Act include the payment of a single lump sum, regular financial payments or property transfer.
A contested probate solicitor will establish whether you are eligible to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act, advise on the likelihood of success and manage the matter through to trial or earlier settlement.
‘Proprietary Estoppel’ Claims – ‘proprietary estoppel’ prevents a person from reneging on a promise made during their lifetime in their will, provided specific criteria are met.
To bring a claim in proprietary estoppel, you must show –
- An unambiguous promise was made to you by the deceased;
- You relied on that promise to your detriment; and
- It would be inequitable for the deceased to be allowed to renege on their promise.
The relief granted in a successful proprietary estoppel claim depends on the circumstances of the case and may include the transfer of property or the payment of a lump sum.
Proprietary estoppel is a complex legal doctrine, and you should seek the specialist advice of a contested probate solicitor if you think you have a claim.
What Do Contested Wills And Probate Solicitors Do?
A contested probate solicitor will provide expert assistance with any probate, inheritance and succession disputes matter. Examples of tasks they regularly undertake include –
- Obtaining and reviewing all relevant documentation;
- Lodging documentation with the Probate Registry to halt a probate application in the event of a dispute;
- Managing the matter to trial or earlier settlement. Our contested probate solicitors always strive to settle disputes without going to Court. This could be by reaching a resolution through discussions with the other party or engaging in alternative dispute resolution methods such as Mediation. If a Court hearing is unavoidable, our contested probate solicitors will guide you through the Court process and work hard to secure the best outcome for you.
How Much Does A Contested Probate Matter Cost?
Probate can be contested for many reasons. The costs involved will vary depending on the complexity of the issues, the time required to address them and whether the Court’s involvement becomes necessary.
Our contested probate solicitors will advise you on the payment options available. They may include legal expenses insurance, third-party funding, monthly billing and payment on completion.