Disheartened Beneficiaries, Can They Contest a Will? Part One.

We produce a series of articles on this thorny question.

Increasingly, as the law evolves people are now contesting wills or making claims in respect of the estate.

We therefore provide a series of articles, which may assist in understanding and knowing the current law in relation to this thorny problem.

Reasons for a disheartened beneficiary contesting a will can of course vary, but in our experience, it is generally to do with ‘who gets what’ and the value of the estate, which is involved in the decision making when contesting a will.

When a person passes away, this can be devastating for friends and family. Even more so when they find out they have been written out of a will, or not received as much inheritance as expected to. The grief can soon change to feelings of pure spite towards the deceased.

There are various reasons for somebody not being provided for in a will. Which includes not having spoken to the person for some time, strained relations with a child, separation from their husband, or simply a child being very wealthy and not needing the inheritance.

We have had some bizarre situations where people have been written out of the will, and indeed letters of wishes have even been provided, usually by personal handwritten wishes rather than professional drafting, and the reasons can be quite petty, and sometimes bizarre.

Being written out of will can not only cause problems within the family, but this is where the inheritance disputes occur, and the matters become contentious.

We as a company have dealt with a substantial number of contentious matters, and have a number of these ongoing at any one particular time.

In general terms, there are two different approaches to contesting will.

The first is a challenge by disappointed beneficiary, who feels that the will doesn’t make ‘reasonable provision for them’. In these cases, they are not seeking to prove that the will is invalid, just that the provisions should have been made for them. The second is a claim that the will itself is invalid for some reason, so that the whole will fails.

Claims that the Will fails to make reasonable provisions.

Who can challenge a Will for provision?

The law in relation to this is governed by the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependence) Act 1975, and various caselaw that comes from such claims.

Certain relatives and dependents can claim, on the grounds that the distribution of the estate does not make reasonable financial provision for them.

The classes of those who can make a claim are;

A spouse, or civil partner.

A former spouse or a civil partner – they must not have married or registered a new civil partnership.

A person who co-habited with the deceased as husband and wife, for two years prior to the deceased date of death.

A child.

A person treated as a child of the family (e.g. stepchild)

A financial dependent.

Coming into force at the end of last year, was the provision of Civil Partnership Agreements for persons of mixed gender, and although there has been no caselaw on this matter, we are of the belief that if an agreement such as this has been entered into, they will also be allowed to make the appropriate claim.

There maybe an overlap by the fact that these people co-habited together for the period above.

What are the grounds?

If the beneficiary or applicant can provide evidence that they were either financially dependent on the deceased, and a insufficient share of the estate or monies was left to them, or that they fall into one of the categories of family member and ‘reasonable provision’ has not been made, they can bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependence) Act 1975. An example of this might be, a testator who makes no provision in their will for their child who is dependent upon them.

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