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Estate Disputes and Contesting Wills

Will Disputes and Contentious Probate Solicitors


Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things we will all face in life. Disagreements over that person’s estate can be incredibly painful, and the last thing that anyone wants to deal with. And yet, disputes over wills and probate are sadly very common. If you find yourself with issues concerning a will or probate, you need to find the right solicitor to help you to navigate this often uncomfortable territory.

Whatever your concerns, we are here to help. We understand that this area of the law can be complex, and very sensitive. At Clifford Johnston and Co, we have over 35 years of experience in this area, and an excellent reputation for doing everything we can to help you resolve your situation as swiftly as possible. We have offices in Stockport and Manchester and are well placed to help you with the challenges you face.

Estate Disputes

Estate disputes and contentious probate affect both beneficiaries and executors and include such problems as:

  • Concerns over the way that the executor has carried out their duties
  • Delays in applying for the grant of probate
  • Failing to pay beneficiaries within a reasonable period of time
  • As a beneficiary - you may dispute the value of the estate
  • As an executor - you may be facing a claim against the estate or you are unsure how to interpret and carry out will

The Court has powers to remove executors in certain circumstances. It can require executors to provide accounts and evidence to confirm the value of an estate. The Court can also give directions on how an estate should be administered.

We have experience in advising and assisting both executors and beneficiaries on these and many other types of estate disputes.

Contesting a will

You might choose to contest a will and seek to prove that it was invalid if you feel that it was:

  • not made in accordance with the law
  • made at a time where the deceased lacked the capacity to do so
  • not signed or witnessed correctly
  • forged or fraudulent
  • not a true reflection of the deceased’s wishes.

You may also find yourself in a situation where a friend or relative has died without leaving a will (intestate). This is a very common situation and when this happens the estate is subject to certain rules, which may also cause disputes.

What should you do if you feel that a will is unfair?

There are many reasons that you might feel that a will is unfair, and you may have grounds to challenge it under certain circumstances:

  • you have been completely left out of the will
  • you received less than you were expecting
  • you were verbally promised something that is not in the will
  • you were financially dependent on the deceased, but this is not reflected in the will.

If you think you have been left out of a will unfairly, the first step is to discuss your circumstances with an experienced contentious probate solicitor.  Call the number at the top of this page for a no obligation initial consultation or leave your details using the enquiry form and we’ll call you back.

Who can contest a will?

Anyone who is likely to benefit from an earlier will or on intestacy (if there is no earlier will) is able to contest a will.

How are will disputes resolved?

In the first instance, we will always try to solve a dispute through mediation to avoid having to take a case to court. This is always the best option if it is achievable, and we are well placed to negotiate for you. We will initially correspond with the other party or their solicitors to explore the case and the possibilities for resolution.

If an agreement can’t be reached, it may be necessary to go to court. All the concerned parties will need to prepare their evidence and any documentation, and it can take up to eighteen months to reach a resolution. Fortunately, most cases are settled before trial but this can be quite a drawn-out process - it’s important to instruct a skilled solicitor to try to minimise the time and stress involved.

Reasonable financial provision disputes

If you feel that a will has unfairly left you with less than you were expecting, or nothing at all, you may be able to make a claim for reasonable financial provision. The Inheritance Act 1975 allows certain people to make a claim – this can be a contentious area of law and it’s sensible to take advice on your particular circumstances to see what you may be entitled to.

Who can claim?

If you were financially dependent on the deceased, for example you are a spouse or civil partner, you may have a claim. As an ex-spouse you may also be able to claim if you haven’t remarried. Likewise, if you were a cohabitee of more than two years and still living with the deceased when they died, or you were being financially supported by the deceased, you may be entitled.  Children (including adults, adopted, foster, step and close grandchildren) may also be eligible to claim.

How is reasonable financial provision determined?

Several factors will be used to determine whether you are entitled to reasonable financial provision. Courts will consider:

  • the size of the estate
  • your financial needs, and the needs of any other beneficiaries
  • the nature of your relationship
  • any disabilities, either yours or those of other beneficiaries where applicable.

What is a "no contest" clause?

Sometimes wills contain a “no contest” or forfeiture clause. These are almost like a token payment and are often used in cases where a person wishes to minimise the amount they give to a particular relative. Often a parent estranged from, or wishing to disinherit, a child will include such a clause – so that if the recipient challenges the will, they will in theory forfeit whatever they were originally left.

It is important to check whether a will has a “no contest” clause before challenging it – if the case is lost then so is the originally offered inheritance or gift.  Of course, if the challenge is successful then the terms of the clause will not apply.

Challenging the validity of a will

The right of a person to dispose of their estate as they see fit is enshrined in English law. However, if you think that a will is far from the wishes a person expressed whilst alive there might be grounds to contest it. There are several reasons why a will might be declared invalid:

  • Mental capacity – this is one of the most common reasons for challenging a will. If it can be proven that at the time of making the will that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to do so (perhaps because of dementia, or mental illness) it can be declared invalid. This can be a legally intricate task as you need to prove that the deceased was not aware of the either the implications of their actions, or the full value of their estate.
  • Undue influence – if you feel that a person has been taken advantage of, or otherwise coerced into making a will to unfairly benefit another person you may have grounds to challenge its validity. Again, this is notoriously difficult to prove, as coercion will generally take place in private, and the deceased is no longer able to give their side of the story.
  • Fraud or forgery – if any part of the will, or the signature is found to be forged or fraudulent, then the will is invalid. It’s not always easy to spot a fraudulent will, but if the original will has been destroyed, or hasn’t been signed in the presence of witnesses, it may be a sign that fraud has taken place.

If a will is successfully declared invalid it will either be replaced with an earlier version, or subject to intestacy laws if no earlier will exists. It is prudent to establish whether it will be beneficial to challenge the validity of a will – if there is a chance that it will leave you in a worse financial position you need to be aware of this before taking any action. One of our solicitors can help you to determine whether a legal challenge is the right course of action for you.

How long do I have to contest a will?

Swift action is essential as there may be a deadline, depending on the nature of your claim. For example, if you are claiming under the Inheritance Act, you have six months from the issue of the grant of probate.

If you are a beneficiary making claim against the will you have twelve years from date of death, whilst if you suspect there has been fraud committed there is no time limit.

You can contest a will after probate has been granted, but it’s best to take advice as soon as possible. If you are in any doubt as to when you need to claim by, get in touch with us.

We understand that this is a chapter you will be anxious to close as quickly as possible. Let one of our specialist solicitors talk you through your options today- we pride ourselves on our ability to connect with our clients and to provide the cost effective litigation they need.

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With over 35 years of experience providing legal advice in relation to Estate Disputes and Contested Wills, we are leading Wills and Probate Solicitors in Manchester and Stockport providing professional administration of estate services from our offices in Heaton Moor and Burnage.

We are proud of the Contentious Probate and Will Dispute Services we provide and the positive difference we make for our clients. Our experienced Wills and Probate Lawyers are experts in their fields.

Call today or complete the enquiry form and we will get back in touch with you quickly. We will always respond promptly, and we will be happy to help.

We build lasting relationships with our clients.  Most of our work comes from existing clients, referrals and recommendations.

Clifford Johnston & Co. have long been recognised for our expertise in Estate Disputes and Contested Wills, acting regularly for clients from across the North West and Cheshire including Altrincham, Hale, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Knutsford.

As recognised experts in Wills, Probate and Trusts we can support your needs wherever you live in England, Wales & Northern Ireland.

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