Family structures tend to be more complicated than they once were. People remarry, have step-children and ex-partners. This can lead to an increased chance of disputes arising with regard to Wills and Estates of those who have died; Probate disputes. This is particularly a risk when a Will has been drawn up by untrained individuals or those who are offering services at a very low cost. Quality and and understanding of the issues at stake tend to not be adhered to.
Contentious probate relates to any dispute relating to the administration of a deceased person’s Estate, whether that be a dispute over the value of assets, the interpretation of a Will, or sometimes issues with Executors or feuding Beneficiaries.
Focus on Contentious Probate
What is Contentious Probate?
Contentious Probate arises when there is a dispute connected with someone’s Estate after they have passed away.
Unfortunately, arguments over what has been left by the relatives of someone who has died have become considerably more common in recent years. Why should that be? The generation who are currently coming to the end of their lives, lived through a particularly prosperous period in terms of full employment, strong increases in property values and solid investment returns. Many people are now able to leave valuable assets to others upon their death.
Family structures have also changed over the last few decades. Second marriages and cohabitation outside of a marriages as well as civil partnerships are more common and there are often greater complications in people’s lives and family structures than there were forty or fifty years ago. Economic conditions that put people under financial pressures do not help either. Basically, the potential for arguments over a relative’s Estate has grown.
It is becoming increasingly common for disputes to arise in relation to a deceased’s Estate and get to the stage where they cannot be settled without outside help. Here at rhw we deal with a number of different claims, ranging from challenging the validity of a Will to defending a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
As you can imagine no two Wills are the same and no two-family situations are identical either, so contentious probate matters tend to vary widely. However, there are some general areas claims fall into and we have listed these below as you may find this a helpful guide to understand where you currently stand:
Matters concerning the validity of a Will –
Disputes in this area arise from several different causes. These are examples of the more common ways a Will may be challenged:
- Where a Will is asserted to not have been signed or witnessed correctly by the deceased
- A person was being coerced into the creation of a Will and there is an allegation of “undue influence”
- There may be another Will made at a later date
- A person is alleged to not have had the mental capacity to create a valid Will
- A person did not know or approve the contents of the Will
Even if there is no Will, rhw can help you contest how an Estate has been divided up. Estates can be very complicated, especially when there are multiple properties or international assets involved. rhw have the experience to deal with all these areas professionally and sensitively.
Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“Inheritance Act Claims”)
An overview of the legislation:
The Inheritance Act gives a route for those who have not been left anything or have been left an insufficient amount from the deceased’s Estate to apply for reasonable financial provision from the Estate. The Courts can exercise discretion and award reasonable financial provision out of the deceased Estate. This could be, for example, where a family argument has led to someone being ‘cut out’ of the deceased’s Will or where the relative was sufficiently financially dependent on the deceased before they died.
Claims made under the Inheritance Act have increased substantially in recent years. As we noted earlier, family structures have tended to become more complicated in recent years and that has led to greater scope for disagreements.
At rhw we act for clients bringing Inheritance Act claims as well as Executor and beneficiary clients defending Inheritance Act claims.
It is important to note claims under the Inheritance Act need to be issued at Court within a very short deadline. Therefore, if you believe you may be able to make an Inheritance Act claim it would be wise to obtain legal advice from a lawyer without delay.
Disputes over the administration and distribution of a deceased’s Estate
When the administration of an Estate is handled by a family member or someone who is not a lawyer, then problems can occur. Examples of some of the areas rhw can advise on are:
- Where an Executor has used assets and money for their own purposes
- Where an Executor refuses to exercise their duties, makes mistakes or are acting slowly.
- Claims against the personal representative appointed to be executor (SWB comments?)
- Where there is opposition to a Grant of Probate
- Blocking a Grant of Probate being issued where an inappropriate party has applied for it
- Blocking a Grant of Probate where there is still an unresolved dispute
- The removal and appointment of a new executor
Claims against Professional advisers
Claims may be made against professional advisors in various situations where you believe someone has been negligent in terms of drafting a Will, giving advice to executors or trustees or where they are acting as executor.
Getting help and advice
Not surprisingly contentious probate issues often arise at a time when individuals are already under stress from the passing of a loved one or where there are existing conflicts with other family members.
It is a specialised area of law and we would recommend you obtain legal advice as soon as you can and not attempt to take matters into your own hands, as this can often cause more problems than solutions.
They will be more than happy to have a chat with you about your situation and to outline how they can help.