This brings a whole new meaning to the expression battle of the wills! Most people find writing a will to be highly emotional, but ultimately, a gratifying experience.
When you’ve finished, you can rest assured that your money, property, and possessions go to the right people when you pass. You know that your prized car isn’t going to spend the rest of its life being dented by Uncle Terry, the terrible parker. Your clothes won’t be gathering dust in (self-proclaimed) fashionista Auntie Jean’s wardrobe.
You’ll probably have thought about how people will react when you’re going through the will writing process; however, as we all know, families and loved ones aren’t always easy to predict. As helpful as it would be, no one has a crystal ball that allows them to see into the future (as far as The Planning Bee knows, anyway).
You will have made the decision that was right for you at the time, but not everyone always sees eye-to-eye. Uncle Terry might have really wanted the car, and Auntie Jean might have had her eye on your wardrobe for quite some time. Finding out they won’t be getting what they thought they would can be a devastating shock and leaves people feeling left out.
Will It All Come Out in the Wash?
If you’re in the same boat as Terry or Jean and you feel that you’ve been neglected in someone’s will, is there anything you can do about it? Open a dispute through a seance? Write a mean Facebook status? Repeatedly mention it at Christmas?
As tempting as the above might seem (except for the seance – that just sounds weird), there are certain steps you can take if you feel you’ve been illegitimately left out of a will. However, they’re not easy, and nothing is guaranteed. Our guide will explain how it’s usually done and some of the dangers, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth your time.
Legal Advice and Relationships
Family dynamics can be quite fragile, and you’ll most likely want to maintain positive relationships. After all, who wants to fall out over material possessions? You’ll need to be sensitive and diplomatic, and you’ll definitely need legal advice.
No matter how open-and-shut or complex the case seems, a solicitor will first be able to advise whether you have legal grounds to contest a will or claim from an estate where someone has passed on without leaving a will.
Settling matters outside of court through mediation is always preferable – it’s less upsetting for everyone, takes less time, and can ultimately save you money.
Can Anyone Challenge a Will?
In short, no. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act of 1975 has an extremely comprehensive review of who can contest a will. If you want to have a read, feel free; however, it’s 14,000 words and includes very dense legal language! In essence, the only people who can challenge a will are:
- Direct family members
- A beneficiary named in a previous will
- A spouse, whether separated or not
- A person that previously financially relied on the deceased
- Someone who had an item promised to them
- Any creditors of the deceased
If you contest a will, probate (the judicial process whereby a will is proved in a court of law) will be paused to give you time to prove you have a legitimate case. You can expect to be asked questions such as:
- Was the amount you were allocated insufficient?
- Did the deceased promise you something not included in the will?
- Why do you think you’ve been left out of the will unfairly?
- Have you been left without resources you depended on?
You might feel that the will was not correctly drawn up, signed without witnesses, the deceased wasn’t in the right state of mind to sign a will, or even that they didn’t know what they were signing.
Getting the Timing Right
The two most common types of will claim are:
- Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
- Claims against the validity of a will
If you claim for financial provision, it must be within six months of the date of the Grant of Probate. This might seem very short, but the law is designed to stop estate administrations from being delayed for no reason.
There are certain circumstances where you can make a late claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but you’ll need to make an application to the Court. You’d need to demonstrate why your claim has exceptional merit and that there was a reason you brought the claim out of time.
Contesting a will out of time also brings with it the added problem of reclaiming the asset. You might be found to be legally entitled to it, but getting it after it’s already been distributed can be very difficult.
Will It Be Worth It?
It may well turn out that contesting a will might not be worth the cost. Because of the nature of legal matters, exact figures are impossible to predict; however, contesting a will can cost as much as £100,000.
That is a huge amount of money, and this isn’t even taking into account the damage it can cause to interpersonal relationships. Bearing everything in mind, mediation is usually the most agreeable way of settling any differences.
Whatever your situation is, it’s always best to get legal advice as soon as you can – this will help you make your claim before any deadlines are up.
Additionally, contesting a will is never an enjoyable process. After someone has passed, emotions are usually fraught, and disputes over the contents of a will can be a bone of contention. For this reason, the faster that you deal with it, so it’s not hanging over your head, the better!