What is contentious probate?

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What is contentious probate?

Contentious probate refers to any disputes arising over the administration of a deceased person’s estate, whether that person had a will or not. This includes disagreements over the validity of a will, its interpretation, or the administration of the estate.

It typically involves disagreements among beneficiaries, executors, or other interested parties. Resolving these disputes often requires the involvement of a specialised probate lawyer who can navigate the complexities of estate law and represent their client’s interests in court.

When someone lacks a will, handling their estate can seem overwhelming

If an individual passes away without having made a will, it’s termed ‘intestacy’. There are established ‘intestacy rules’ that determine the distribution of assets in such cases. Regrettably, these rules generally do not cater to unmarried partners or their dependants, and any spoken commitments made by the deceased during their lifetime are disregarded.

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Partner | Private wealth disputes

01483 464274

Contesting probate when there is no will

Our contentious probate solicitors are equipped to assist you on a range of issues stemming from the absence of a will, such as:

  • An unmarried partner not benefitting from the deceased’s assets.
  • A child or any dependent left without provision.
  • Situations where an estranged married partner unexpectedly inherits.
  • Disagreements about who should oversee the estate’s distribution.

Contesting probate involves a spectrum of disputes. Some common disputes arising from the management of estates, which aren’t solely about the will, encompass:

  • Claims for reasonable provision when an individual believes they ought to have been left provision from the deceased, typically a spouse, parent, child, or someone who was financially maintained by the deceased – as per the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
  • Trust-related disagreements – such as when assets are held in a trust, disputes over asset ownership, trustee appointments, and how the trust’s finances are managed for the beneficiaries.
  • Upholding promises made by the deceased during their lifetime, such as when someone has devoted their life working on a property with the expectation of partial or complete inheritance and has suffered a detriment as a result of the promise not being fulfilled.
  • Seeking clarity on ambiguous terms of a will.
  • Rectifying or varying a will
  • Assessing the legitimacy of gifts given during the deceased’s lifetime – particularly questioning the mental capacity of the donor at the time.
  • Proposing the removal of an executor.
  • Opposing the appointment of an estate administrator.
  • Addressing poor estate management by an executor.
  • Mediating conflicts amongst beneficiaries or trustees.
  • Determining the accurate value of intricate assets.
  • Situations involving misplaced or compromised wills.
  • Court proceedings, such as an order for key estate documents or recovering inappropriately distributed assets.
  • Safeguarding the rights of individuals who cannot manage their own concerns.

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Estate matters can often be intricate, especially when they involve overseas assets, multiple properties, combined family set-ups, or intricate financial frameworks like trusts. Moreover, dealing with the passing of a loved one is challenging enough, and conflicts with regard to their estate only heighten the stress.

With our extensive background in managing these affairs, our primary goal is to reduce distress wherever feasible. Whether you are an executor, a beneficiary, or someone who anticipated being a beneficiary, we’re here to assist, be it in pursuing a claim or defending against one. Our services extend to trustees, ranging from individuals and trust corporations to other entities, including charities.

We have offices in LondonRichmondSouthamptonGuildfordLymington and Woking and offer specialist contentious probate legal services to clients nationwide.

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Contentious probate – FAQs

Can I contest probate before it is granted?

You can contest probate before it’s granted by filing a “caveat” with the Probate Registry, which temporarily prevents a grant of probate from being issued, allowing time to address concerns about the will or its administration.

In the UK, the ability to contest probate is not open to just anyone. Generally, those who can contest probate include:

  • Beneficiaries named in the will: These are individuals or entities that the deceased explicitly mentioned in their will as those that should benefit from their estate.
  • Beneficiaries of a previous will: If there’s a newer version of the will that excludes certain beneficiaries who were included in an older version, those beneficiaries from the earlier will may have grounds to contest.
  • Those entitled under the intestacy rules: If the deceased didn’t leave a will, or the will is deemed invalid for some reason, certain individuals are entitled to the deceased’s estate under the Rules of Intestacy. These individuals can contest probate if they believe they’re not receiving reasonable provision from the estate.
  • Dependants of the deceased: Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain individuals can make a claim if they were financially dependent on the deceased and the will (or lack thereof) doesn’t make reasonable provision for them. This can include spouses, former spouses, cohabitees, children, and even those treated as the deceased’s child (e.g., stepchildren in certain situations).
  • Creditors: If the deceased owed money, creditors can contest the distribution of the estate to ensure they are paid what they’re owed.
  • Others with a claim: There are instances where someone might have a claim because they were promised a portion of the estate or because they significantly contributed to the estate (for example, they may have worked for the deceased, expecting to inherit).
  • Those challenging the validity of the will: This can be due to suspicions of undue influence, fraud, lack of testamentary capacity, or improper execution of the will.

You can contest a will after probate has been granted. However, it’s generally more challenging, and swift action is advised to potentially prevent the distribution of estate assets and address any concerns regarding the will’s validity or execution.

The cost of contentious probate can vary, depending on various factors, such as the complexity of the case, the amount of work involved, and the specific circumstances surrounding the dispute. It is recommended to consult with a qualified probate lawyer who can assess your situation and provide you with an estimate of the potential costs involved.

The costs associated with contentious probate can sometimes be paid from the estate itself. This means that the expenses are typically covered by the assets of the deceased person. However, in some instances, the court may order that the costs be paid by one or more of the parties involved in the dispute, depending on the circumstances of the case. It is advisable to consult with a qualified probate lawyer to understand the specific details and potential costs involved in a contentious probate matter.

How long contentious probate takes can vary depending on various factors, such as the complexity of the case, the number of parties involved, and the court’s schedule. In general, contentious probate cases can take anywhere from several months to several years to resolve. It is important to consult with an experienced probate lawyer who can provide a more accurate estimate based on the specific details of your case.

In the UK, contentious probate matters are primarily dealt with by the High Court, specifically within the Chancery Division.

When dealing with contentious probate, it is possible that you may have to go to court. The need for court involvement will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. If there are disputes or disagreements regarding the validity of a will, the distribution of assets, or any other issues related to probate, it may be necessary to seek resolution through the court system. However, it is important to note that not all probate cases end up in court. Many disputes can be resolved through negotiation, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution methods. An experienced contentious probate lawyer can guide you through the process and help determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

Contesting a will is a type of contentious probate dispute.

Contesting a will refers to challenging the validity of a will. This typically occurs when someone believes that the will does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased or that it was executed under undue influence, fraud, or a lack of mental capacity. Contesting a will may involve presenting evidence and arguments to a court to prove that the will should be declared invalid or modified.

Contentious probate, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses any dispute or disagreement related to the administration of an estate. This can include disputes over the distribution of assets, interpretation of the will, appointment of executors, or any other matter that arises during the probate process. Contentious probate disputes can involve multiple parties and may require court intervention to resolve.

In summary, contesting a will is a specific type of dispute that focuses on the validity of the will itself, while contentious probate encompasses a wider range of disputes that can arise during the administration of an estate.

The time limit for making a contentious probate claim can vary, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

In general, it is advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible if you believe you have grounds for a contentious probate claim. This will ensure that you do not miss any important deadlines and can take appropriate action within the required timeframe.

To get a clear understanding of the time limit applicable to your case, we recommend contacting our experienced contentious probate team. They will carefully assess your situation and provide you with accurate and personalised advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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