To be valid, a Will must be signed by the person making it and two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries. All three must be physically present in the same place when the Will is signed. Due to the highly unusual circumstances during lockdown, sometimes Wills were signed on car bonnets or through windows whilst taking precautions to prevent infection. In some circumstances, Wills may not have been signed and witnessed in accordance with case law and line of sight.
Others that have used webcams/Zoom to witness Wills with a view to them being re-visited after lockdown could also have created problems if the person dies or loses mental capacity before this could take place. Some people may also have prepared a “homemade” Will which may not take account of all the legal formalities and may not have considered certain claims and moral duties.
Will disputes can be time consuming and stressful at an already emotional time. In some cases, strict time limits will apply and there may be an urgent need to stop the issue of a Grant of Probate. If you are concerned about bringing a potential claim or you find yourself having to defend a claim, it is important you seek specialist legal advice. Our experienced team understand the stress that a claim can cause and are here to guide and support you.
In 2019, the High Court reached an all time high of 188 contested wills cases which was an increase of 47 percent from the previous year according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. These figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many disputes settled or abandoned before the case even gets to court.
There are various reasons why someone may contest a Will which may also have been exacerbated due to the strict social distancing measures during Covid-19. Reasons could include:
- The will has not been properly signed
- The person making the Will did not have testamentary capacity
- The person making the Will did not have knowledge of the Will and did not approve the contents of the Will
- The person making the Will was unduly influenced
- The Will is forged
- The meaning of the Will is not clear
- The Will was not drafted properly.
- The Will does not properly record the deceased’s wishes.
Another reason for a disputed Will can arise when certain relatives or dependants believe that they have not been properly provided for and wish to bring an “Inheritance Act” claim. More complex family structures through cohabitation and multiple marriages frequently result in increasing claims to an estate which are often disputed.
Whilst the costs of bringing a claim can be expensive, the rise of house prices in many parts of the UK means that a growing proportion of estates are seen by potential claimants as worth contesting.
We are living though difficult and uncertain times but if you would like to discuss one of these sorts of matters, please contact our team for a free initial telephone consultation. We can advise you of your options and the next possible steps to take.
The phrase “Contentious Probate” is often used generally to cover the following sorts of claim:
- Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 claims
- Contentious probate and estate administration disputes
- Claims to remove executors
- Challenging the validity of a will based on undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity and/or knowledge and consent
- Trust disputes
- Equitable remedies including proprietary estoppel, resulting trust and constructive trust claims
- Professional negligence claims
- Disputes between trustees and beneficiaries
- Disputes with professional deputies