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How to contest an invalid Will
There are several grounds upon which it is potentially possible to contest a person’s Will. These include:
- The person making the Will (the testator) lacked the necessary mental capacity
- The testator either did not know or did not approve of the contents of their Will
- The testator was improperly influenced into making the Will
- The Will was not correctly executed
- The Will is a forgery and/or was fraudulently obtained
All of these types of claim are known as “validity disputes”, because you are effectively disputing the validity of the Will itself.
On the other hand it may be that even if the Will is valid, you feel that it is unfair in that it does not make sufficient financial provision for you. In those circumstances, it may be possible to bring a claim under a piece of legislation known as the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (known simply as the 1975 Act). The 1975 Act provides for certain classes of people to be able to apply to the court for greater financial provision out of a deceased person’s estate, and is explained in more detail below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.
Yes. It is possible to bring a financial provision claim under the 1975 Act to ask the court to decide that the amount which you would receive under the Intestacy Rules (which apply if the deceased person has no valid Will) do not make reasonable or financial provision for you. Please see below FAQs on financial provision for more information.
It is not possible to challenge a Will before the person who has made it passes away. This is because a Will does not come into effect until such time as the testator has died. If, however, you do have concerns about the content of a Will, then you may wish to address these with the testator in person.
The Grant of Probate is the legal document issued by the Probate Registry which confirms that the executors of the Will have the legal authority to deal with the estate.
It is always better for claims which challenge the validity of a Will to be brought before any Grant of Probate is issued because it is possible that distributions may have been made before your claim is raised, which can make recovery of assets more difficult.
In order to stop a grant being issued, a document known as a caveat can be lodged at the Probate Registry. This is often the first step in disputing the validity of a person’s Will, and it is a step which we can assist you with.
The only people who are legally entitled to sight of a Will before a Grant of Probate is issued are the executors who are named in the Will. That being said, it is common practice for an executor to provide a copy of the Will if it is requested.
Once a Grant of Probate is issued, the Will is then a public document and can be readily accessed by anybody who wishes to see it.
It is possible for anybody to challenge the validity of a person’s Will. In reality it is usually the case that challenges are only brought by people who would benefit under an earlier version of the Will and as such, it is often only people with a financial interest under previous Wills who seek to bring claims which challenge the validity of a Will, or people who would be financially better off if there was no valid Will and the intestacy rules applied.
The position is different in relation to claims under the 1975 Act, where there is a specific list of people who are eligible to apply for an order that a Will does not make reasonable financial provision for them. This includes spouses, former spouses, children, cohabitees and people who were being maintained by the deceased. More information can be found at below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.
There is no time limit for a claim to contest the validity of a Will. However, it is always advisable to act as soon as possible because – for the reasons explained above – there can be practical difficulties involved once a Grant of Probate has been issued and/or distribution starts to be made from the estate.
Any claims for reasonable financial provision under the 1975 Act must usually be brought within 6 months of the Grant of Probate being issued. For more information see below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.
You may be concerned that a family member or friend did not understand what they were doing when they made their Will. The legal test for whether or not a testator had sufficient mental capacity to make a Will requires that:
- They understand the nature of the act of making a Will and its effect – in other words, that he or she understands that they are setting out how they wish for their estate to be distributed upon their death;
- The size of their estate;
- The individuals in respect of which they are morally bound to provide for and any consequences of not providing for these individuals; and
- That they are not suffering from any disorder of the mind which may effectively poison their feelings toward people who may otherwise expect to benefit from the estate.
The process of analysing whether or not a testator did lack the mental capacity to make a Will involves consideration of the evidence of the solicitor or Will maker involved in the preparation of the Will, the testator’s medical records and the witness evidence of other people who were involved in the testator’s life.
Whilst the law does not prevent people from trying to persuade a testator from distributing their assets in a certain way under their Will, the court will intervene if a person has effectively coerced a testator into making a particular Will. In other words, the testator’s own judgment effectively has to have been overridden by the person who has manipulated them into making a particular Will.
To determine whether there has been any improper influence requires thorough consideration of the evidence of the solicitor or Will maker who was involved in the preparation of the Will and the witness evidence of other people who were involved in the testator’s life.
There are a number of technical formalities which any testator must follow in order to execute a valid Will. These include:
- The Will must be signed by the testator, in the presence of two other witnesses and then be signed by those witnesses, in the presence of the person making the Will after the testator themselves has signed the document.
- The person making the Will must be over 18 years of age and have mental capacity.
- The person must make the Will voluntarily without undue influence and must know and understand what the Will says; and
- The Will must be in writing
It is not unheard of for potential beneficiaries to produce a fraudulent or forged document which they say was prepared and signed by the testator. In these circumstances, detailed investigations need to be undertaken in order to establish the authenticity of the document which is produced, particularly if there was apparently no other parties involved in its preparation apart from the testator and the person who would benefit under the Will.
You cannot challenge a Will just because you feel that it is unfair (apart from in some limited circumstances where you if the Will does not make ‘reasonable financial provision for you’ – see our Financial Provision Claims FAQs).
However, there may be legitimate reasons for you to contest the Will, including if you think that your dad did not know what they were doing when they made the Will, or if you think someone was being forced to make the Will. See the other FAQs in this section and consider whether any of these apply to your circumstances.
These types of claims are very fact-specific so it is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no answer as to whether any such claim is available to you. You can contact us for advice and we can advise you whether we think that you have a claim.
This will depend on the arrangements your mum (or dad, as the case may be) and her spouse have made. They may have made ‘mirror Wills’ or ‘mutual Wills’. Alternatively, they may have simply made their own Wills which have totally different provisions.
If your mum and your step-dad made ‘mirror Wills’, then the surviving spouse can revoke that Will and make a new one. They may not leave you anything under their new Will, and a dispute may rise.
If your mum and your step-dad made ‘mutual Wills’, they make a legal promise not to change their Will unless they both agree to this.
Complex family structures can lead to issues and fallouts when someone dies. These circumstances are very fact-specific. You can contact us for advice and we can advise you whether we think you have a claim.
You will need to check the provisions of the Will. The Will might say whether your dad intended to set the amount of gift off against your sibling’s share of their estate.
If your dad intended the sum of money he gave to your sibling as a completely separate gift, then you cannot deduct the sum of money from their share of the estate. However, your sibling will have to prove that this was your dad’s intention when he made the lifetime gifts, as it is presumed that a person would not make the same gift twice (known as the rule against receiving “double portions”).
If the testator promised you something during their lifetime which they said that you would inherit on their death, but then this was not provided for in their Will, you may be able to bring a claim known in legal terms as either proprietary estoppel or promissory estoppel.
You must be able to show that the testator made you a promise during their lifetime, that you relied on that particular promise and the reliance that you placed on the promise was to your detriment. You can find more details above in the FAQ – How long do I have to contest the validity of a Will?
In general terms, if a dispute goes to court then the losing party will have to pay both their own and the winning party’s legal costs.
Ward Hadaway can offer a number of options to help your financial outlay, including acting on a fixed fee basis or a no win no fee arrangement.
We have been offering no win no fee arrangements now for over 20 years. We know that good legal advice is expensive and in most cases, if the case is strong, we can work with you to find a way of bringing the claim. Click here to see an example of one of our recent cases. Costs will be discussed with you in detail before you have to pay anything.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a dispute regarding the validity of a Will can take. If a dispute is settled early into the process then resolution can be reached in a matter of weeks or months. If, on the other hand, matters have to proceed all the way to trial then it is not unheard of for disputes to last anywhere between 18-24 months.
The vast majority of disputes settle without ever reaching a final hearing with something in the region of 2-5% of all cases actually ending up in court at a final trial. So whilst it is very unlikely you would need to attend a court hearing, it is always a possibility.
To ask about your own circumstances, please complete the form and we will be in touch to find out more
We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation in order to assess your particular situation. If we do think that you may have a claim, we will explore all potential funding options with you, including the possibility of acting on a no-win-no-fee basis.
To access your free consultation, fill in the form above, contact Martin on 0330 137 3022 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org, or get in touch with any of the contacts further down this page.
Ward Hadaway is a UK Top 100 law firm, and many of our solicitors are recommended by both of the leading independent guides to the legal industry – Chambers & Partners and Legal 500. Our experts in this area have completed the specialist course run by the Association of Contested Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) and the University of Law. Members of our team are also part of the Special Interest Group for Contested Trusts and Estates at the Society for Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP).
Our expert team are recognised in the both national legal directories, Chambers and Legal 500 as leading individuals in their area of expertise.