Family disputes over the estates of well-known celebrities often hit the headlines. They have most recently focused on the dispute in America between the sons of Aretha Franklin, after she left behind no formal will when she died. Instead, she had written two notes, one from 2010 and the other from 2014, with each naming a different son as the executor of her estate. Last week, after a legal battle of five years, a jury ruled that her most recent note would be used as a record of her last wishes.
If you suspect the will or a handwritten note of a loved one who has died does not reflect their true wishes, or fails to make adequate provision for those closest to them, you might consider challenging the document. An already anxious time of grieving could be made worse if you are worried about what to do next.
Contesting a will or becoming involved in a dispute over a loved one’s estate should never be done on a whim and it is vital to consider whether a successful claim would produce a better outcome than the provisions already stated. Craig Williams, a partner and contentious probate specialist at B P Collins, outlines the process below.
How do you contest and how long will it take?
You first need to establish the grounds for a claim. Perhaps the person who died did not have the mental capacity to make a will, or did not fully comprehend its contents; maybe they were unduly influenced by someone else, or you believe the will was forged; perhaps it doesn’t reflect the wishes of the person who died due to a clerical mistake, or a misunderstanding; maybe you feel there has not been adequate provision made for you.
You should always discuss your options with a solicitor who should explain the evidence that is required, the process, and the likely obstacles.
If you have a potential claim, you should consider entering a caveat to prevent the Probate Registry issuing a grant of probate (if there is a will) or letters of administration (if there is no will). It costs £3 to enter a caveat, which lasts for six months and can be extended by application.
After taking advice, ordinarily, you would then explain your case in a formal letter sent to the people who will benefit from the estate.
Disputing a loved one’s estate is a complex process, which can take months or even years, particularly if it involves going to court. It is always worth considering mediation to help avoid court proceedings, which can be expensive and stressful.
How long do I have to contest?
If you are a beneficiary making a claim against an estate, you normally have up to 12 years after the person who made the will has died. In cases of probate fraud, there is usually no time limit.
There are strict and shorter time limits for certain claims though. For example, a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, must ordinarily be issued within six months from when probate was granted.
In most cases, the sooner you get advice and take action, the better.
Can I contest a will if I’m not in it?
Yes. If you suspect a will or note is not valid, you can make a challenge in the hope that an earlier will or the Intestacy Rules will apply.
If you were part of the family or you were financially maintained by the person who died, then you might be able to make a claim against the estate for a reasonable provision to be made, regardless of whether you are named in the deceased’s last wishes.
Can I contest a will if probate has been granted?
You can dispute the validity of a will after a grant of probate has been issued, but it is usually better to make the challenge sooner, for strategic reasons.
Claims for financial provision under the Inheritance Act can also be issued after probate is granted.
Disputing a will requires the expertise of a contentious probate solicitor. Before taking the next step, contact Craig Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01753 889995 to discuss your options.