Challenging a Will

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There have been many high profile cases over the years where disappointed beneficiaries have brought a claim against an Estate where they feel that they have been disinherited. What rights, if any, does a beneficiary have?

In England & Wales there is no right of inheritance. An individual has absolute testamentary freedom – that is to say that they can leave their estate how they wish and do not have to make provision for close family members if they do not want to. However, if those close family members feel they have not received adequate provision then they can consider making a claim against the estate. The most high profile cases have featured adult beneficiaries who have been disinherited in favour of a Charity. The relief is claimed through the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (The Act). Not everyone is entitled to make a claim and they must fall within one of the categories listed in the Act – quite often claims are made by adult children against a deceased parents’ estate. Any claim brought under the Act must have merit and the court will look at the needs of the person claiming and the needs of the named beneficiaries. Following court decisions over the last few years, there has been a rise in challenges to Wills with many adult children thinking a claim will succeed based on their financial circumstances.

This point was highlighted in the recent case of Shapton v Seviour. Mr Seviour had left his estate, modestly valued at £268,000, to his wife. Mr Seviour’s daughter challenged the will claiming she was entitled to quarter and citing a £20,000 credit card debt as evidence of her financial need. This was despite the fact that she and her husband were financially independent with a house and reasonable incomes. The High court dismissed the daughters’ claim on the ground is was ‘hopeless’ and awarded £50,000 costs against her. This followed an earlier decision of the Court to reject a claim for provision from an adult child who could live within her own means.

In summary, there is no right to inheritance under a Will. However, where you think you might be entitled to make a claim for provision then good advice is essential. Our experienced contentious probate team led by Amanda Melton is here to help. Amanda and her team can advise on the merits of your claim and you can then make an informed decision on whether to proceed.

Separately, as a parent, you may be considering disinheriting a child. Again, good advice is key to ensuring that your estate passes to those you want to inherit. Our private client team led by Jacqueline Almond will be able to advise on these issues.

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If either of our teams can help then please get in touch by calling 03456 381381.