Problems can and do arise in relation to Wills and the administration of Estates; this is particularly so if someone has died without a Will – or perhaps with a Will which did not properly take into account the needs of all potential beneficiaries.
There is much one can do to to make sure that loved ones are taken care of, should the worst happen; a properly drafted Will; a prudent appointment of executors and trustees; a sage insight into the needs of potential beneficiaries, and a judicious distribution of assets – this is the most anyone can do.
Despite one’s best efforts, a number of issues can arise after someone has died – be it a disputed Will, a claim against the Estate, or complaints with the way the Estate is being handled by the executors – such issues are collectively referred to as Contentious Probate, and can lead to complex and costly litigation, if matters are not resolved.
Contentious Probate is a highly specialised field, and is our niche practice area.
When a person dies, a dispute may arise among family members or potential benefiaries, as to whether a Will exists. If a Will is produced, a dispute may arise as to whether such Will was indeed the last Will and testament of the deceased, or whether a later Will exists.
It may also be that the validity of a Will is in question; perhaps it was not executed in accordance with the legal formalities that would make it binding; or perhaps it is claimed that the Will is the result of a fraud or forgery, or that the testator was under duress when the Will was executed.
Whether or not there is a valid Will, there are a variety of potential claims that may be brought against the Estate, by certain individuals.
It could be for example that someone who genuinely believed, or had been told, that they were a beneficiary of the Will, in fact turns out not to be; or perhaps certain assets that were gifted to certain beneficiaries in the Will, were in fact promised to someone else during the testator’s lifetime.
The law also gives the right to specific categories of people in certain circumstances, to make a claim against the deceased’s Estate for “reasonable financial provision”; any such claim, if successful, will reduce the value of the inheritance of the beneficiaries of the Estate.
It may be that there is no dispute about the validity of the Will, and no claim against the Estate – but concerns arise with the way in which the executors and trustees are handling the Estate. It may be that things are taking far too long to finalise, or that beneficiaries are not being kept properly informed of progress.
In more serious cases, those charged with dealing with the Estate may be in breach of their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries. There are many ways this can happen, each of which gives rise to corresponding remedies in law to the beneficiaries.
What are the options?
It’s important to consider the claims that might be made after your death – especially if you’re considering leaving someone out of your Will (who might ordinarily expect to be included).
There’s nothing anyone can do to stop a claim being made by someone who thinks they have something to gain by bringing one – however, there are things you can do to limit the chances that any such claim might be successful; advice on a case-by-case basis is needed.
How can we help?
Whatever the nature of the dispute or concern, we can help. We act for both Claimants and Defendants in all manner of Contentious Probate disputes. We’ll always consider these issues as part of your Wealth Check – if it appears that there’s a risk of a claim being made after your death, then we’ll explain why, and provide you with options.