Wills are confidential documents while someone is alive, so often relatives and friends can be surprised when they eventually discover the contents. That can lead them to taking legal advice on trying to challenge a Will on the basis that the money has not been left fairly.
The sort of challenge relies upon the Inheritance Act, or the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, to give it its full name. This provides that certain categories of people can ask the court to change the terms of a will. The persons allowed to attempt such challenges include spouses, children and people who were financially supported in some way by the deceased in the period leading up to their death.
The rules surrounding these claims are very technical but in summary, to successfully contest a Will under the Inheritance Act, the Court must be satisfied that the person challenging did not get reasonable provision under the Will and that their financial situation is such that they deserve increased provision.
These sorts of disputes can often be resolved in correspondence but if court proceedings are necessary, they take place in the civil courts. The courts encourage the parties to try to settle their differences in the early phase of the court claim by negotiation or mediation. Many such claims are successfully settled in this way quite early on, which means that the potentially stressful court claim is resolved without the need for a hearing in front of a judge.
For more information on this article, please contact Mark Heath, Partner or a member of our Litigation (Dispute Resolution Team) on 01905 721600.