Will & legacy disputes

Many people underestimate the difficulty of challenging a will and there is widespread misconception that a will can be challenged simply because it seems ‘unfair'.

When can a will be contested?

People are often surprised to learn the contents of the will left by a relative or friend.  This is when will disputes tend to occur.

Sometimes there is a genuine trigger for concern - for example if an elderly individual has left everything to a recent acquaintance. Such a scenario is particularly likely to provoke investigation if there is a pattern of earlier wills which benefited family or charity.

In other situations, the deceased made a rational decision that the family are well established financially, and that he or she would prefer, for example, to benefit others such as a charity.

What are the grounds for contesting a will?

The grounds for contesting a will are:

  • Undue influence – meaning the person making the will was manipulated, intimidated, coerced or deceived
  • Lack of testamentary capacity – meaning the person making the will did not understand what they were doing when they made the will
  • Lack of knowledge and approval – meaning the person making the will might have been capable of understanding what they were doing but did not have actual knowledge (this is particularly relevant where there are suspicious circumstances)
  • Forgery or fraud
  • Lack of due execution – meaning the person making the will did not comply with the formalities (in particular two witnesses present at the same time)

There can also be a debate as to whether a will (particularly a missing will) was revoked.  A missing will can be restored.

However, even if the validity of the will itself cannot be challenged, there are a number of avenues that can be pursued to right any wrongs.  For instance, a claim for financial provision or to enforce a broken promise.

Who we work with

Our clients include family members, friends of the deceased, executors and charities – anyone who is defending a will or who believes a will is not valid. 

How we can help

Our trust and succession disputes team in London is part of a global network of lawyers experienced in dealing with contested will and legacy disputes and provides the sensitive but decisive advice required, in often emotionally charged circumstances.

Paul Hewitt and Dawn Goodman are authors of the leading textbook Probate Disputes and Remedies.

If you would like to talk to a member of our team about a will dispute, call us today on +44 (0)20 7597 6483.

Notable cases include

  • We acted for the successful brother and sister in overturning a will purported to be that of their late mother.  Their younger sister had been involved in the invalid will and the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.  (Burgess v Hawes)

  • We (working with Jersey advocates) advised RSPCA, Cancer Research UK and RAF Benevolent Fund in securing an order that the late Mrs Ivelaw had not intended to revoke an earlier will benefitting the three charities when making a later Belgian will.  Click here to see the decision. (In the matter of the representation of Hawksford Executors, reported at [2013] JRC 188)




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