If you have reason to doubt the validity of a loved one’s will, you can lawfully contest the document. These 6 steps help you contest any will in the UK.
How to Contest a Will in UK: 6 Steps to Contest a Will
A last will and testament is a document written and signed by a person, outlining their wishes after death. For a will to be valid, it needs to be:
- written when the person is of sound mind
- written with fair understanding of the size and value of their own estate
- signed by the deceased, with two adult witnesses present
- signed by those two witnesses
- the witnesses may not be beneficiaries of the will
If you think you want to contest a will, this 6-step guide will explain everything you need to know about the process.
Can You Contest a Will?
The short answer is ‘yes’. You can contest a will if you feel that the will is invalid, based on any of the points mentioned above. You can also contest a will if you believe that the executor is not administering the estate correctly, or if the will is forged.
If you are considering contesting a will, these are the key things to ask yourself:
- who is contesting the will (in relation to the deseased)
- what the grounds are for disputing the will
- how much time has passed since the deceased’s death
If you have a valid reason to contest a will, it is advisable to put a caveat on the estate. A caveat will prevent the grant of probate and the subsequent division of the assets among the beneficiaries. This will give you and your solicitor time to investigate and put forward a claim.
Anyone who has a vested interest in the will has the right to contest it. This can include beneficiaries as well as people not mentioned in the will, such as:
According the Inheritance Act of 1975, family members have the right to apply for compensation from a will. Contesting a will may be necessary if they are not recognised as beneficiaries, or if they feel their inheritance is unfair compensation.
Family members include:
- the spouse or civil partner of the deceased
- a former spouse or partner of the deceased, who has not remarried
- a partner who lived with the deceased
- children, both biological and adopted
- parents, siblings or other relations
People or organisations not related to the deceased:
In the UK, challenging a will is possible for certain people outside of the family.
This can include:
- someone who was financially dependent on the deceased
- a person who lived with the deceased
- a person or organisation who had been promised an inheritance, verbally or in writing
- beneficiaries under a previous will (someone who has been disinherited in the final will)
- creditors who are owed money by the deceased
Keep in mind:
- applications can be made by a third party, such as with a parent, who may contest a will on behalf of a minor child
- the division of an estate can be contested whether there is a valid will, or if it is Intestate (when no will is in place)
What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will ?
There are two main avenues to take when challenging a will. The first is to contest as a family member or a dependent, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act of 1975.
The other option is to contest the validity of the will itself. To contest a will on these grounds, you would need to follow one of several legal arguments:
- lack of knowledge and approval: the deceased didn’t understand what they were signing
- lack of testamentary capacity: the deceased was not in a sound state of mind when signing the will
- lack of valid execution: the will was not signed and witnessed according to the correct formalities
- undue influence or coercion: the deceased was overpowered or put under pressure to sign
- forgery: the will itself or the signatures were faked or tampered with
- fraud: beneficiaries were disinherited after false accusations were made against them
- rectification and construction claims: the will has invalid changes or appears to have been tampered with
Lack of knowledge and approval:
If you believe that the deceased did not have accurate knowledge of the contents of their last will and testament, in the UK you have legal grounds to contest the will.
Some examples of lack of knowledge and approval could be:
- the will is complex and the deceased did not understand what they were signing
- the will is written in a language the deceased did not understand well
- the deceased was unaware of the true value of their estate
- the will was not read by the deceased before they signed
- the will was prepared by a beneficiary who stands to gain a lot from this version of the will
- there are suspicious circumstances around the writing and signing of the will
Lack of testamentary capacity:
A will can be contested if there is suspicion that the deceased had written, or changed their last will and testament when they were of unsound mind. Having a lack of testamentary capacity could mean that they do not understand:
- that they are making a will
- the effects of the will
- the consequence of including or excluding certain beneficiaries
Lack of testamentary capacity can also apply to someone suffering with a mental health disorder, such as Dementia.
Lack of valid execution:
You can contest a will if you suspect it was not signed and witnessed according to the legal requirements. A will is considered invalid if:
- it was not signed by the testator in the presence of two adult witnesses
- it was not signed by those witnesses
- the beneficiary of a will is also one of the witnesses, or their spouses
Fraudulent wills and forged wills:
You can challenge a will if you suspect it is forged due to:
- the will itself or the signatures appearing faked or tampered with
- the will containing statements which are untrue or uncharacteristic
Keep in mind, you will need strong evidence to contest a will on the basis that the will is forged. Handwriting experts might need to be hired in order to prove that the signatures are faked.
A fraudulent will is one in which:
- beneficiaries have been disinherited after false accusations were made against them
- there is evidence of “intentional deception made to personal gain or to damage another individual”
- the executor of a will (UK) is proven to have manipulated the will, or the estate value, for their own benefit
Rectification and construction claims:
You can also contest a will if you suspect the will has had invalid changes or if it appears to have been tampered with. Any changes to a will should be accompanied by a signed and witnessed caveat, outlining the specific amendments to the last will and testament.
How Do You Legally Contest a Will?
The formal steps to take when contesting a will in the UK are:
Obtain the necessary documents:
- a copy of the will and grant of probate from the district Probate Registry (if probate has been granted)
- relevant identity documents proving relationship to the deceased
- any documentation to substantiate the argument for your claim (previous wills, letters of intent, proof of financial support from the deceased etc)
Decide whether or not to appoint a solicitor:
It is not a legal requirement to appoint a solicitor when you contest a will. However, the claim process can be long and difficult, and sometimes ends up in court. Before contesting a last will and testament in the UK, it can be helpful to talk to an experienced solicitor about your case and your expectations. At Fenix Funeral Services (insert hyperlink), our caring advisors are always available to hear about your case, and advise you on the best route forward.
Negotiation or litigation:
If you are contesting a will in the UK, there are two possible outcomes. First option, is you could have a negotiation and try to work out a solution directly. If this doesn’t work, your second option is to take your challenge to the courts and proceed with litigation. For the litigation process, you will need a solicitor in order to protect your interests.
How Much Time Do You Have to Contest a Will?
As a general rule you should make any claim against a will as soon as possible. If you are contesting a will after probate has been granted, you generally have 6 months in which to make a claim. There are some instances where the timeline is extended, or where there is no time limit.
The main options are:
- fraud or forgery: no time limit
- claims against the executor misappropriating assets: no time limit
- beneficiary making a claim: 12 years from the date of death
- Inheritance Act of 1975: 6 months from the grant of probate date
- rectification claims: 6 months from the grant of probate date
You should aim to get your claim in as soon as possible, because the longer you wait after grant of probate, the greater the chance that the dispersed assets may not be recoverable. Even if the court rules in your favour, a dispersed estate (consisting of expendable liquid cash or joint-owned assed) can be difficult to claim from.
The legal fees and costs associated with contesting a will in the UK will vary according to how the dispute is settled. The initial lawyer’s letter can cost close to £1000, but the cost of contesting a will can end up at almost £10 000 if the matter goes into mediation. If you proceed with litigation and the case eventually goes to trial, the cost could be as high as £150 000 per party. This can end up costing more than the value of the estate. For this reason, it is usually in both parties’ interest to solve disputes as early as possible in the process of contesting a will.
Who pays to contest a will?
The cost of contesting a will includes lawyers’ fees, which are paid by the respective claimant (you) and the defendant. If the case goes to trial, the judge decides who should be responsible for each of the separate set of legal fees. Some solicitors may agree to contesting a will for a no-win-no-pay fee agreement. Keep in mind that if you lose you can also be made responsible for the other party’s legal fees. If you are in the process of contesting a will, speak to us (insert hyperlink) at Fenix Funeral Directors for advice. Our team will guide you through crucial steps and recommend experienced will solicitors.
Anyone who has a vested interest in a will can contest it. This includes beneficiaries as well as people not mentioned in the will. An individual can contest a will if they feel they have been unfairly excluded. This includes family members who have been overlooked or disinherited, or a beneficiary of the will who was mentioned in previous versions of the will. A parent can also contest a will on behalf of their child.
Who is entitled to see a will after death in the UK?
The only person who is entitled to a copy of the will is the executor of will appointed by the deceased, or the appointed administrator in cases where there is will. The executor may choose to share the will with their solicitor or with beneficiaries, but this is not a requirement. The will is only made publicly available after probate has been granted.
Is contesting a will after probate possible?
It is possible to contest a will after grant of probate, however there is a chance that the executor has already began dividing up the estate. If probate has been granted, and you are in the process of contesting a will, you should apply for an injunction, which would put any further distribution of assets on hold.
If you are a beneficiary, the executor of will (or the administrator if there is no will), will contact you and inform you of your entitlement. You may request to see the will, but the executor is not under any obligation to share the contents of the will. Once probate has been granted, the original will is held by the district Probate Registry in the UK. The will is then available to the public for a fee of £5.
At Fenix Funeral Directors, we are always ready to advise you on the best course of action when contesting a will in the UK. Our dedicated team can also help you obtain a copy of the will, or a copy of the grant of probate.