Contentious Probate Solicitors
Disputes over the validity of a Will or how probate is being handled are common and can be very complex, especially where there are substantial assets involved. Conflict often also arises over decisions the deceased made before their death, as well as in relation to trusts and jointly owned properties.
If these inheritance disputes are not handled in the right way, they can become highly contentious, time-consuming and expensive. We understand that disputes between family members can quickly escalate and need to be dealt with firmly but also with sensitivity and tact.
With the right legal guidance, most contentious probate disputes can be resolved smoothly and effectively, often without the need for court proceedings. We have many years of experience in acting for claimants and defendants, executors and administrators, trustees and beneficiaries, so are able to consider the issues from all sides and give the right tactical advice.
At IBB Law, we have exceptional specialist expertise in dealing with all types of Wills, trusts and probate disputes. Our contentious probate solicitors have particular experience dealing with high value estates, including those involving complex issues, such as foreign assets and other jurisdictions. We pride ourselves on coming up with creative solutions to even the most emotionally charged and bitterly fought family disputes.
Our contentious probate solicitors can assist with resolving problems including:
- Challenging a Will
- Correcting mistakes in a Will
- Inheritance Act claims for dependants not sufficiently provided for in a Will
- Disputes over lifetime transactions and gifts made by the deceased prior to their death
- Disputes over co-ownership of property included in an estate
- Executor and estate administrator disputes
- Trust disputes
- Professional negligence claims against solicitors and Will writers
We can also provide independent estate administration and trustee services where required.
Our typical clients include company directors, investors, entrepreneurs and many High Net Worth Individuals in the UK and internationally. As such, we can offer the exceptional personal legal service required to deal effectively with the pressures involved in high value contentious Wills, trust and probate matters and achieve the best available result under even the most difficult circumstances.
We tailor our approach to reflect your goals and concerns. Our contentious probate team are highly skilled in mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods, as well as having the robust litigation skills needed should court proceedings be required.
Looking for immediate advice on an inheritance dispute?
Meet the team
Our expertise in dealing with contentious probate
We have been helping clients to deal with all types of contentious probate matters for many years, with a strong track record of achieving favourable results under even the most challenging and emotionally charged circumstances.
We are highly ranked by the Legal 500 for our expertise in Contentious Probate and by Chambers & Partners for our expertise in Private Wealth Law. Additionally, we hold the Legal 500’s top Tier 1 ranking for our expertise in Personal Tax, Trusts and Probate.
Our Wills and Probate team have achieved the Law Society’s Wills & Inheritance Quality accreditation, further demonstrating our strong expertise in this area of law.
IBB Partners Paul Grimwood and Amanda Melton are both contentious Wills, trust and probate solicitors with many years’ experience handling the most complex and sensitive inheritance disputes. Paul and Amanda are both members of The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS).
Paul is also an ADR Group Accredited Mediator (and as of 2020 Online Mediator) and is registered with The Civil Mediation Council. He uses his mediation expertise and experience to help clients resolve inheritance disputes, avoiding the delay, cost and inconvenience of court proceedings while minimising the potential for damaging family conflicts.
Amanda has been recognised by the Legal 500 for her expertise in handling contentious probate disputes, in particular the way she “combines exceptional professional knowledge with strong interpersonal skills” and for her “straight-talking approach and honesty”.
How our team can help with contentious probate & inheritance disputes
Where there are questions over whether a Will is valid or if it truly represents the last wishes of the deceased, it is important that these are resolved as soon as possible. In some cases, it may be necessary to have the Will interpreted by the court (known as ‘construing the Will’) or even ‘rectified’ so that it accurately reflects the most likely intentions of the deceased especially if it a ‘homemade Will’.
Our contentious probate lawyers can advise on challenging a Will where:
- The Will was not properly signed or witnessed
- The deceased lacked the relevant mental capacity to make a valid Will
- The deceased lacked proper knowledge and approval of the contents of the Will
- The deceased was subjected to undue influence when making their Will or ‘fraudulent calumny’ is involved
- The Will has been forged or some other fraud is suspected
We can also advise on entering a caveat to prevent the issue of a grant of probate whilst we investigate the circumstances in which instructions were given for the Will and it was executed by the deceased.
Find out more about our expertise with Will disputes.
Errors in the way a Will has been drafted can leave it unclear as to what it means, open to interpretation or produce an outcome different to what it is believed the deceased would have intended. In such cases, it may be necessary for a court to determine what exactly it means (referred to as ‘Will construction’) and/or for the Will to be corrected to reflect the deceased’s intentions (known as ‘rectification of the Will’).
Our inheritance dispute solicitors can advise on:
- Where there are grounds to seek rectification of a Will
- Negotiations between executors and beneficiaries to resolve problems caused by a badly worded or ambiguous Will
- Applying to the court for construction and/or rectification of a Will
Where a Will does not make reasonable provision for the dependants of the deceased or there is no Will and dependants are not reasonably provided for under the rules of intestacy, it may be possible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Such claims are commonly called ‘Inheritance Act claims’.
Our inheritance disputes solicitors can assist with:
- Advice on whether you have grounds for an Inheritance Act claim
- Negotiating a settlement
- Making an Inheritance Act claim through the courts
Find out more about our expertise with Inheritance Act claims.
Where the deceased was involved in significant financial transactions before their death which may reduce the value of their estate, this can raise questions, especially if there is a suspicion that they were unduly influenced by another party in the decisions they made. Financial abuse of the elderly and vulnerable is regrettably an increasingly common problem.
Although these can sometime be upheld, gifts made shortly before someone died (so-called ‘deathbed gifts’) can potentially be challenged, especially where they are of a high value in themselves or relative to the total value of the estate and it is believed that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to make such a gift.
Our contentious probate solicitors can assist with:
- Establishing whether the deceased had the mental capacity to make financial decisions prior to their death
- Investigating whether the deceased may have been unduly influenced in their decision-making
- Establishing whether a gift was legitimate
- Making financial claims against any parties who have acted wrongly, including securing the return of gifted assets to the estate
Another source of inheritance disputes is where the deceased owned a property with one or more other people. If this property is included in the deceased’s Will, it can cause confusion about exactly how it should be treated, especially if the terms of the co-ownership are not clear.
Our inheritance disputes lawyers can assist with:
- Establishing the ownership of property included in the estate including if the deceased during their lifetime promised particular property to a friend or relative and in reliance on that promise the third party acted to their detriment (otherwise known as ‘proprietary estoppel’)
- Agreeing what share of co-owned property, if any, should pass under the Will or the intestacy rules or whether the right of survivorship applies
- Selling co-owned properties as part of the probate and estate administration
Administering an estate is a serious responsibility that must be carried out diligently. Where the people dealing with an estate cannot agree on what needs to happen or there are questions over the conduct of an executor or estate administrator, this can have a major impact on the beneficiaries, so it is important that these issues be resolved promptly and cost effectively.
Our inheritance disputes solicitors can assist with situations including:
- Disputes between executors or administrators
- Unreasonable delays in dealing with getting probate or estate administration
- Improper disposal of assets (e.g. where a property or other assets have been sold at below market value)
- Unreasonable expenses claimed by executors or estate administrators
- Executor fraud
- Having executors or estate administrators removed
Find out more about our expertise with executor disputes.
Trusts can be complicated to administer, especially when they involve high value assets or there are complex instructions that need to be followed. Where trustees disagree or there are concerns over how a trust is being administered, seeking expert advice at an early stage can help to ensure any negative impact on the beneficiaries is kept to a minimum.
Our experts can assist with:
- Disputes between trustees
- Disputes about the correct interpretation of the trust document if the wording is ambiguous
- Concerns about the actions of trustees raised by trust beneficiaries justifying the trustees’ removal or replacement
- Trustee fraud or a refusal to provide accounts and/or to disclose relevant information/documents to beneficiaries
Sadly, the standards of Will writing services vary considerably, meaning that even a Will that was professionally drafted may not always stand up to scrutiny. Mistakes in the way the Will was prepared can mean it is ambiguous, fails to reflect the deceased’s true last wishes or is invalid.
In such cases, it is important to investigate whether the Will can be corrected or ‘rectified’ or interpreted such that the deceased’s last wishes are properly carried out. If the Will needs interpretation by the court or rectification it may also be necessary to make a professional negligence claim against the person who drafted the Will where their errors have impacted on the value of the estate or led to additional costs for the estate.
Our experts can assist with:
- Applying to rectify the Will or to have it construed by the court to ensure it reflects the deceased’s true intentions
- Advice on whether the professional who drafted the Will may have been negligent
- Bringing professional negligence claims against solicitors and Will writers
Find out more about our expertise with professional negligence claims.
Defending a contentious probate claim
If you are the executor of an estate or a beneficiary of a Will, we can advise you on the best way to deal with any claim against the estate. Our experience means we can provide an honest assessment of the merits of a claim and the likelihood of success in court action. You can then make an informed decision about how to respond to the claim in a way that protects your best interests and the wishes of the deceased.
We can then support you during negotiations with the claimant and represent you in court action as required, ensuring you have the appropriate legal expertise and representation to secure the best available outcome.
How we can help to remove conflict from contentious probate
Inheritance disputes between family members can quickly become heated with the potential to cause long-term damage to key relationships. Understandably, many people wish to avoid court action to resolve contentious probate matters due to the increased conflict this can bring to the situation, as well as the time and cost involved and perhaps unwanted publicity.
Fortunately, in most cases court proceedings are not needed to resolve inheritance disputes. Our contentious probate lawyers are experts in alternative dispute resolution, meaning we can usually help you to achieve a positive outcome out-of-court.
Using mediation for inheritance disputes
Mediation is often the most effective way to deal with contentious probate while minimising the conflict involved. This involves the various parties working with an independent mediator to discuss the issues involved and try to agree an amicable solution.
The mediator acts as a neutral third-party, helping to facilitate discussion between the parties and their lawyers. They ensure the discussion stays productive and are there to defuse any unnecessary conflict. This approach usually allows inheritance disputes to be resolved faster and at lower cost, while helping to preserve positive relationships between the parties involved and avoid publicity.
Any agreement reached through mediation will be recorded in a settlement agreement. This provides written evidence of what the parties agreed, which can be referred to if later required during subsequent proceedings.
Time limits for contentious probate claims
The time limits for challenging a Will depend on the precise situation and reason for the challenge, however, it is usually easier to challenge a Will before probate has been granted and in particular before the estate has been distributed. It is worth noting that there is no time limit to contest a Will on the grounds of fraud.
If you wish to enter a caveat, you will need to do so before a grant of probate or letters of administration is obtained. Once a caveat has been entered, you can apply to extend the caveat shortly before it is due to expire.
If you wish to make a claim of negligence in relation to an executor who has handled probate, you will usually need to do so within 6 years of when you first suffered a financial loss.
If you are bringing an Inheritance Act claim, you will normally need to do so within 6 months of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration being issued. If you wish to make a claim outside of this time limit, you will need to apply to the relevant court for permission to start proceedings and there is no guarantee this will be granted.
The costs of contentious probate & inheritance disputes
The cost of dealing with contentious probate matters will depend entirely on the circumstances, including how complex the issues involved are and how long it takes to resolve the dispute.
We always aim to be transparent with our pricing, so will be happy to discuss the likely costs involved at the outset. This will include a clear breakdown of our rates and any expenses that may be incurred as part of the process of resolving a probate claim.
We work as a team so are able to offer the most appropriate hourly rate for each part of the work which needs to be done and also rely upon more junior members of the team to assist with the work to ensure each aspect of the job is carried out at the correct level.
For more information on the costs associated with contentious probate matters, please get in touch.
How our contentious probate solicitors have assisted existing clients
We acted for the children of the deceased against their brother who sought to control the management of the estate. We successfully removed him and persuaded the court to appoint an independent professional administrator to progress the administration and distribution of the estate.
We acted for the executors under a complex homemade will. One of our partners was appointed under a power of attorney to obtain a grant and deal with the administration on behalf of the named executors. The estate management was complex owing to the deceased’s business being subject to a winding up petition at the date of death. Our non-contentious team deal with the administration. The contentious team have been required to bring a claim seeking interpretation of the will to ensure that the administrator can understand how the will should be interpreted and therefore guiding the administrator to properly distribute the estate in due course.
We acted for a son who had been disinherited by his mother as a result of a mistaken belief that her son had stolen property from her when in fact, he was a mere trustee. We sought to challenge validity of the will on the basis the deceased had made the will whilst suffering from a delusion which affected her decision.
We acted for a client who had been gifted property by a close friend during her lifetime. The family sought to set aside the transfer to him on the basis the deceased had entered into mutual wills as a result of which she was prevented from disposing of the property in question.
We acted for a child of the deceased in relation to her late father’s estate. He died without a will but with a surviving spouse with whom the family had no contact for many years; we sought a presumption of death from the court so that the client was able to distribute the estate between herself and her siblings without fear of a claim by the spouse at some later date.
As the partner died without a will there was no entitlement at all. We successfully pursued a claim under the Inheritance Act and successfully got a settlement allowing our client to purchase a home for herself.
Common questions about contentious probate
You may be able to challenge the validity of a Will if you believe one or more of the following applies:
• The deceased lacked mental capacity at the time the Will was created e.g. they were suffering from dementia
• The Will lacks valid execution e.g. it was not signed in the presence of appropriate witnesses
• The Will was not created with the proper knowledge and approval of the deceased e.g. someone else created it on their behalf and did not correctly inform the deceased of the Will’s content
• The deceased was under ‘undue influence’ when creating the Will e.g. they were pressured to favour certain parties to the detriment of others
• The Will is fraudulent or forged
Circumstances where an Executor might be considered to be failing in their duty to the beneficiaries include:
• If the Executor is spending money from the estate inappropriately
• If there are unreasonable delays between probate being granted and bequests being distributed to the beneficiaries
• If the Executor appears not to be taking the required actions to progress the probate process
• If the Executor is unable to produce accounts when reasonably requested
If no provision or insufficient provision has been made for you from an estate, you may be able to make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, commonly referred to as ‘the Inheritance Act’.
An Inheritance Act claim may be an option if there is a valid Will that excludes you or does not make sufficient provision for you. It can also be an option if the deceased did not leave a valid Will and their estate is being dealt with through the rules of intestacy.
People who may have grounds to make an Inheritance Act claim include:
• The spouse or civil partner of the deceased
• Someone who was cohabiting with the deceased
• A child of the deceased who is still in education
• Anyone who was dependent upon the deceased at the date of death
To make an Inheritance act claim you need to be able to show that the deceased did not make ‘reasonable provision’ for you. What constitutes reasonable provision will depend on the circumstances, for example, if you are a child of the deceased still in education, reasonable provision might mean covering the cost of your education and living expenses.
Get tailored advice for dealing with contentious probate
The information given here is intended for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.
To discuss making or defending a probate claim, please contact our contentious probate specialist Paul Grimwood by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.