Contentious probate is any dispute relating to the administration of a deceased person’s estate. It could involve a dispute over the interpretation of a Will, a disagreement between executors or beneficiaries or contention over the value of estate assets. 

Losing a loved one is distressing and difficult as it is, and issues with how their estate is being handled can make it even harder. This isn’t helped by the fact that the administration of an estate can be a very complex and lengthy process, and as a result disputes commonly arise. 

If you feel that a loved one’s estate is not being managed properly or that you disagree with the inheritance arrangement, there are options to contest probate. 

The most common contentious probate claims are based on a Will not being valid or claims for ‘further provision’ from a person’s estate, which is where a person feels they should have been provided for, usually by a spouse or parent. 

These disputes could centre around: 

  • The interpretation of the Will. 
  • The value of the assets.  
  • An executor who has mismanaged the estate. 
  • Disagreements between beneficiaries. 

Contentious probate can arise for innumerable reasons, an example being an inheritance dispute where there has been a failure to provide for a dependant or a child, intentionally or unintentionally. If one half of a non-married couple dies and they haven’t made a Will, for example, their assets would automatically go to their children without any provision for their partner.  

It could also involve challenging a Will due to the breaking of a promise of provision. For instance, say you made a deal with an elderly family member where you agreed to care for them with the promise of receiving provision from their estate. But after they died, you discovered that no provision has been made for you.  

So how can someone bring forth a contentious probate claim? 

To launch an inheritance claim, you first must fit the description of person(s) who can launch a claim as stated in the Inheritance Act of 1975. These include the children and spouse of the recently deceased, or a person who lived with the deceased for two years or more prior to their death. 

The next phase is to identify the grounds on which you can contest the Will. We have previously explored the process of a Will in detail, but as a reminder, common reasons to contest a Will include: 

  • Fraudulent or forged Wills – if there is a reason to suspect that the Will was either altered or forged. 
  • Lack of testamentary capacity – if there is a reason to suggest that the person was not of sound mind when they created the Will. 
  • Undue influence– if there is a reason to believe that a person was coerced to include certain content. 
  • Incorrect execution of the Will – if the executor of the Will does not do it in accordance with what was stated. 

What does the resolution of a contentious probate proceeding look like? 

If a person does have a valid right to claim, there are several routes to a resolution. 

Mediation is the recommended way to resolve contentious probate. It involves the appointment of a mediator to run the proceedings, and avoids the often expensive, time-consuming and sometimes stressful process of going to court. 

If the dispute cannot be settled via mediation, the contested probate can be taken to court and the matter becomes a civil case. 

The increasing instances of contentious probate 

The number of contentious probate claims has increased dramatically over the last couple of decades, driving the number of contentious probate firms to double since 2018. This rise could have multiple causal factors, such as: 

  • Divorce and remarriage with children from former relationships and people living together as cohabitees means that family structures are more unconventional and therefore can be more complex when it comes to beneficiaries.
     
  • An increase in people creating Wills where no professional advice has been sought, meaning that there is no independent evidence available to support whether the will is valid.
     
  • People are more aware of their legal rights and are therefore more likely to seek legal action.  

Contesting probate is a time-consuming and emotionally draining process. It is therefore best to obtain advice from a specialist solicitor from an early stage. 

Whether you need to dispute a Will or defend your inheritance, our goal at RHL Solicitors is to help make your life easier when it comes to legal support, while providing you with an exceptionally high standard of care. 

We don’t just try to reach a settlement for you; we help to resolve legal disputes and achieve the very best outcome by tailoring our advice to your own individual needs. If you are seeking the advice and service of specialist legal experts with decades of experience, contact our team who will be more than happy to discuss your matter further.