Probate disputes

Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult enough without the added stress of a probate dispute. If you find that you are forced into this situation, we can help.

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What is a probate dispute?

A probate dispute – also referred to as contentious probate – refers to a dispute over the administration of the estate of a deceased person. This can relate to a dispute over the interpretation of the Will in question or the value of certain assets. It can also refer to a dispute between beneficiaries or executors.

Common probate disputes

Probate disputes can occur to one or more of the following factors:

  • The Will is not valid – If you can prove that the Will does not comply with the Wills Act 1837, then it is not legally valid and could therefore be successfully contested. This could refer to the Will not being signed, dated and witnessed by two independent witnesses (who cannot be beneficiaries of the Will) when it was made.
  • The Will was made without the capacity to do so – Wills are sometimes disputed on the grounds that the person making it did not understand the implications of the Will they were making, the extent of the property being disposed of, or the claims being provided for. If you have been left out of a Will made by someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, this might provide grounds for a disputed probate claim.
  • Financial dependence – The Inheritance Act dictates that anyone who is financially dependent on the deceased, and falls into the claimant categories described by the act, can dispute a Will within six months of the grant of probate.
  • Undue influence – If you believe that the person making a Will came under pressure to alter it in favour of particular individuals or groups, you may be able to make a disputed probate claim on the grounds of undue influence.

Only a person who has an interest in the Will in question is able to dispute probate. This means they have to be a beneficiary, have been promised by the person who made the Will that they would be left something, be owed money by the estate or have been financially dependent on the testator but was left out of the Will.

How do I access the Will in question?

A Will is always made public eventually. However, you may be able to access it in advance by putting a request in to the deceased’s solicitor or executor, if they have appointed one.

If making a request to the solicitor or executor is unsuccessful – or if you don’t know who the executor is – you can lodge a standing or probate search to any probate registry in England and Wales.

Wills and probate can be complicated so it's worth getting legal guidance on what to do.

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How do I dispute probate?

In order to stop probate being granted due to a dispute, you must submit a caveat. The caveat will prevent probate and lasts for six months. There is there the option to apply for a six-month extension.

To submit a caveat, you must be 18 or over. You can either do it yourself, or use a solicitor or another person licensed to provide probate services.

You need to submit the following:

You can write to or visit any Probate Registry to enter a caveat.

How much does it cost to dispute probate?

In some cases, probate disputes can be settled out of court. In those instances, the costs might be very low. For example, you might need to simply share the fee of having a mediator assist with negotiations in order to reach an agreement.

When the dispute does end up in court, the case can be settled whenever an agreement is reached and the court costs can be split between the parties.

If a settlement is not reached, and the probate dispute goes to a final hearing, an assessment will likely determine the bill to be paid by the party that loses the dispute, which usually consists of the costs of both parties. The costs are not covered by the deceased’s estate.

Are there time limits for probate disputes?

If you act before probate has been granted, you may be able to get a caveat placed on the estate to prevent probate being granted.

This means there is less chance the executor can distribute or dispose of any assets. If the estate has already been distributed, it can be much more difficult to acquire the assets that may be legally due.

When it comes to contesting a Will, the Inheritance Act dictates that you only have six months from the date the Grant of Probate is issued in which to do so. Beneficiaries making a claim are allowed 12 months. There is no time limit for probate disputes relating to fraud.

If you have any queries around probate disputes or contesting a Will, First4Lawyers can help you find the right legal guidance and representation. Just give us a call, request a callback at the top of the screen or make an enquiry here.

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