Contested wills and probates

Contested wills and probates in the United Kingdom are complex legal battles that can stir up family disputes and create emotional turmoil.

You might want to contest a will or probate if you dispute the contents of a will or the manner in which the probate process is being carried out. This can stem from various factors, with the core issues often being disagreements over the deceased person’s intentions or the legality of the will.

Some common causes are: –

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: if the deceased person lacked the mental capacity to understand the implications of their will when they created it.
  • Undue Influence: if there’s evidence that someone exerted undue influence on the deceased, leading them to change their will in a way they wouldn’t have done otherwise.
  • Fraud or Forgery: if there is reason to believe the will is forged or obtained fraudulently, it can be challenged.
  • Ambiguity: Poorly drafted wills that leave room for interpretation can spark disputes among beneficiaries.
  • Omitted Heirs: When a will fails to include beneficiaries who should logically be included.
  • Family Conflicts: Family disputes often play a significant role, with siblings, children, or other family members fighting over inheritance.

Contested wills and probates aren’t just about legal aspects; they’re profoundly emotional matters that can strain relationships and cause distress. The emotional toll can actually be more challenging than the legal process, leading to lasting bitterness and resentment. It’s crucial to approach these disputes with empathy and sensitivity.

The legal process

Contesting a will and navigating probate disputes involves a structured legal process. Here’s a simplified breakdown:

  1. Initiating the process: File a claim with the Probate Registry Office to stop the estate being distributed. This provides time to seek a resolution.
  2. Collecting evidence: All parties gather evidence to support their claims, which may include medical records, witness statements, and expert opinions.
  3. Mediation and settlement: In some cases, parties opt for mediation or negotiate a settlement to avoid a protracted court battle.
  4. Litigation: If an agreement isn’t reached, the case proceeds to court and a judge makes the final decision.
  5. Distribution of assets: After a resolution is reached, the court supervises the distribution of assets as outlined in the final decision.

Seeking resolution

Although contested wills can be emotionally charged, many cases are resolved without protracted court battles. Settlements can be reached through negotiation or mediation, often leading to a more amicable and less costly outcome. These settlements aim to address the concerns of all parties while avoiding extended legal proceedings.

Preventing contested wills

Prevention is often the best approach to avoid contested wills. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Consult a solicitor: Engage an experienced solicitor to ensure your will is legally sound and free of ambiguities.
  2. Regular updates: Review and update your will to reflect any changes in your circumstances, such as births, deaths, or significant alterations in your assets.
  3. Open communication: Discuss your intentions with your family and heirs to prevent surprises and misunderstandings.
  4. Professional witnesses: When drafting your will, consider involving witnesses who can attest to your sound state of mind and free will.

Contested wills and probates in the UK are intricate legal matters that can be emotionally taxing for all parties involved. Understanding the causes, the legal process, and potential resolutions can help you navigate these disputes more effectively. Remember, taking proactive steps, like consulting a solicitor and maintaining open communication, can help reduce the likelihood of contested wills and ease the burden on your loved ones.