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Contesting a Will in court - part 1. When is there no point?

Aug 1, 2019

It’s a pretty nasty experience. A relative has died and you had good reason to expect a reasonable share from their estate. The two of you had enjoyed a good relationship. Nothing untoward had occurred and yet, for some unfathomable reason, it seems that you’re ‘out of favour’.

What could have happened?

Is it possible that other family members acted unfairly?
If the deceased was your parent, married to someone who is now your step-parent, did the step-parent unfairly influence your parent? Or perhaps something suspicious has happened to the Will? Could it have been tampered with? How do you find out and, if there are grounds for challenging a Will, how do you go about it?

The quick answer is that any Will can be challenged. But, of course, this isn’t to say that the challenge will necessarily be successful.

The topic of contesting Wills is both interesting and important and warrants three blogs. In today’s article, we’ll look at common causes for perceived inheritance injustices, for which there is no legal basis for a challenge. In the next, we’ll examine those instances in which a challenge might have a chance of success. Then in our third blog, we’ll explore the extra checks we make when drafting a Will - ensuring we protect our client from having their wishes challenged in court.


Challenges to a Will that are unlikely to be successful

1.    Does equal mean fair?
A recent survey reveals that, increasingly, people making Wills are treating siblings unequally. They do this with the intention of treating them more fairly. This might not be the contradiction it first appears. If, for example, during their lifetime, a parent had given one child more financial support than another, it might seem fair to address this inequality in the Will. But what about if one child has worked hard and been more financially successful than the other? Should the less financially secure child receive more? What if one child has offered you more support in your old age than the other? Shouldn’t that child receive a greater reward for their diligence? Not an easy question to answer.

In fact, when it comes to challenging a Will, these questions are irrelevant. Whatever the reason for any imbalance of inheritance, they never count as valid grounds for a legal challenge.

2.    Suppose you were promised a specific amount of inheritance?
In the world of inheritance, verbal promises count for nothing. It’s common for an elderly parent to express an intention, such as, “when I’m gone, I want you to have my grandmother’s wedding ring”.

This verbal promise means nothing. If it’s not in the Will, forget any idea of making a challenge.

3.    Your step-parent has inherited everything
This is surely the most common cause of family acrimony. Having married for a second time, a parent’s new Will leaves everything to the step-parent. The children have received nothing.

There are so many instances of this in the celebrity world. One example was with the famous Oxo Mum, Lynda Bellingham’s estate. Her new husband received the £5M inheritance and subsequently enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. The children received relatively small amounts from the estate.

Again - these circumstances offer no legitimate grounds for contesting a Will.

4.    The family have missed out completely
Quite often, someone might omit the family altogether from their Will, preferring instead perhaps, to leave their entire estate to a charity. Once more, this outcome is entirely legal and provides no reason for a challenge.

Losing a close relative can, of course, be most distressing. But any such feelings can be compounded and confused if you learn that your reasonable expectation of inheritance hasn’t come to fruition. Before deciding on whether or not to pursue the matter, make sure you’re absolutely clear about your grounds for making a challenge. Speak to an expert for specialist advice.

Meanwhile - look out for our next article, where we look at circumstances which might give you grounds for successfully contesting a Will, which you believe to be unjust.

Contact Tim Mullock on 01234 713021


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