Over recent years, statistics show there has been a rise in the number of contentious probate claims being made. Contentious probate covers the many and varied ways in which someone challenges the validity of a will or the administration of an estate.
There are a number of reasons that have been cited for the increase in claims, notably, the increase in so-called ‘Covid Wills’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw an increase in people both giving instruction remotely and also executing ‘homemade’ Wills.
Other reasons behind contentious probate claims include DIY wills generally or wills drafted by unregulated providers, which could result in a will being deemed invalid.
We have previously blogged about claims which can be brought under The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act), which allows a legal challenge to be made by certain individuals against the estate of a deceased person where ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been made.
Here, we take a look at some of the other reasons for contentious probate claims and the situations in which these can be brought.
Claims challenging the validity of a Will
One of the most common reasons for contesting a will is on the grounds that the testator lacked capacity at the time it was written. This can occur if the testator is mentally incapacitated or under the influence of another person.
Contesting a will on the grounds that the testator lacked knowledge and approval of the contents is also common. This can occur if the testator did not understand the nature and effect of their will or if they did not give their informed consent.
Another ground for contesting a will is undue influence. This is where it is suspected that a change to a will to benefit a specific person/people was made under undue influence. This can occur through various means, such as coercion, manipulation, or taking advantage of the testator’s vulnerability.
As a further step from this, it can sometimes be suspected that a will has been forged altogether with the intention of defrauding the testator’s beneficiaries. Contesting a forged will involves proving that the signature or contents are not genuine.
Whilst having a date on a will is not a legal requirement, where a will is not dated, it can give rise to queries around whether a will is the most recent or up-to-date version.
It is also possible to challenge a will on the basis that it was not executed properly, i.e. proving that it was not properly signed, witnessed, or witnessed in accordance with the law.
Investigating the validity of a will is a challenging and delicate matter. A solicitor will need to examine the will closely, considering factors such as its authenticity, handwriting analysis, considering compliance with the legal formalities and other supporting evidence.
The process of contesting a will can be complex and time-consuming, and the nature of contentious probate disputes can result in heightened emotions. It is crucial to seek legal advice from an experienced solicitor who can provide guidance and support throughout the entire process. They will be able to investigate the circumstances surrounding the will and represent your interests in court if necessary.
Richard Dobson-Mason is a specialist in contentious probate matters having recently been admitted to the ACTAPS (Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists).
To discuss any aspect of this article, or to speak to Richard about a contentious probate matter, please contact us.