Defending a claim against an estate or a will dispute
- AuthorRachel Leech
If you are a beneficiary of an estate and someone else is challenging the will or making a claim against the estate, you should seek legal advice on your position if you wish to defend the claim. This is because if their claim is successful it may have an impact on the inheritance you receive. Also, if you defend the claim but then lose, you may be ordered to pay the winner’s costs.
It is therefore important you receive specialist advice so you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the claim.
Firstly, it needs to be established what type of claim you will be defending. The three main claims are as follows:
- A claim against the validity of a will
- A claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
- A proprietary estoppel claim
Claim against the validity of the will
If the claim is against the validity of the will, and the claim is successful, the estate will be distributed in accordance with the previous will. If there is no previous will, the estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
A claim against the validity of a will can be on a number of grounds, which are:
- The deceased’s lack mental capacity to make the will
- The deceased was unduly influenced into making the will
- The will is a forgery
- The will does not comply with the necessary formalities
- The deceased did not know and approve the contents of the will
Claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
Alternatively, the claim may also be under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
This enables certain people to make a claim against the estate for financial provision if the will either does not provide for them at all, or does not provide enough provision. The people who can make a claim are:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Ex-spouse or civil partner
- Children, including adult children
- Someone treated as a child by the deceased
- Someone maintained (either wholly or partially) by the deceased immediately before their death
These claims must be made within 6 months of the grant of probate being issued. It is usually possible to start a claim before, and claims can be made after the 6 months with permission from the court.
The court has the power to order a number of different things, such as lump sum payments or transfer of a property.
How much the court will award depends on the factors of the individual case. For anyone except spouses, the amount they receive will be limited to what they need for their maintenance.
When considering whether the deceased’s estate makes reasonable financial provision for the person making the claim, and if not, how much they should receive, the court considers:
- The beneficiaries’ financial needs and resources
- Your financial needs and resources, if you want to put forward a ‘needs based’ defence
- The size and nature of the estate
- The deceased’s obligations and responsibilities towards the beneficiaries and the person making the claim
- Any physical or mental disabilities that any of the beneficiaries or people making the clam may have
- Any other matter, including conduct, which may be relevant
As a beneficiary defending a claim, you do not have to put forward details of your financial needs and resources if you do not wish to do so.
When considering the financial resources of the person making the claim, the court will also consider their earning capacity and their financial obligations and responsibilities.
There are further factors the court considers. For example, for spouses, the court will look at spouse’s age, the length of the relationship and the contribution the spouse made to the welfare of the family such as caring for children. The starting point for a spouse is what they would have received if the relationship had ended in divorce. However, this is only a starting point which can be deviated from.
For a child or someone treated by the deceased as a child, the court will look at the manner in which the child was, or might have expected to be, educated.
For people treated by the deceased as a child, the court will also consider whether the person making the claim was maintained by the deceased and if so, for how long and on what basis). The court will also look at whether the deceased assumed responsibility for their maintenance, whether the deceased maintained them knowing that they were not their own child and the liability of anyone to maintain the person making a claim.
For claims made by people being maintained by the deceased, the court will consider for how long, and on what basis, were they maintained and whether (and if so, to what extent) the deceased has assumed responsibility for their maintenance.
Claim the deceased promised them something from the estate
Another claim someone may bring against an estate is proprietary estoppel. This is when a deceased promised someone a property that the will does not refer to. For example, the deceased may have promised them their house. A proprietary estoppel claim can be successful where the deceased made a promise to someone, who then relied on that promise to their detriment, but the deceased did not fulfil the promise.
We can advise you on whether the person making a claim is likely to be successful, what is likely to happen and how it will impact you. Please therefore contact our specialised contested probate team for advice if you are a beneficiary of an estate which someone is making a claim against.