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Don’t let contentious probate affect your estate

Navigating the aftermath of a loved one’s passing is challenging enough without the added strain of legal disputes over their estate.

Contentious probate, the term for such disputes, arises when disagreements occur during the administration of a deceased person’s estate, ranging from the validity of the Will to the distribution of assets.

Understanding and preparing for potential contentious probate issues is crucial for anyone involved in an estate, as it significantly impacts the execution of the deceased’s final wishes and the rightful distribution of assets.

Understanding contentious probate

At its core, contentious probate involves disputes related to the administration of a deceased’s estate.

These disputes may challenge various aspects such as the Will’s validity, its terms’ interpretation, estate management practices, or claims against the estate.

The complexity of these issues often leads to probate delays, increasing both the financial burden and emotional distress for all involved parties.

Key legislation governing the administration of estates and potential disputes includes the Administration of Estates Act 1925, which outlines the rules for distributing assets where there is no Will, and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows certain individuals to claim financial provision from an estate if they believe they have not been adequately provided for.

Common triggers of disputes

Disputes during probate often emerge from:

  • Validity of the Will: Challenges based on allegations that the testator lacked the necessary testamentary capacity, was under undue influence, or the Will was not correctly executed in accordance with the Wills Act 1837.
  • Interpretation of the Will: Disagreements arise from ambiguous wording or conflicting provisions within the Will, leading to varied interpretations of the deceased’s intentions.
  • Executor and administrator disputes: Issues with the conduct or selection of executors or administrators, including allegations of mismanagement or bias.
  • Claims against the estate: Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, family members or dependants may seek reasonable financial provision if they believe the deceased did not adequately provide for them.

Our solicitors guide and advise individuals on all aspects of contentious probate, from protecting their estate to submitting claims, and we have a wealth of experience in dealing with such matters.

The process of resolving contentious probate

The resolution process typically begins with an in-depth gathering of information regarding the estate and the dispute’s basis.

Preferred initial steps include mediation and negotiation, aiming to resolve the dispute amicably and outside of court – which is usually cheaper and less emotionally taxing on all individuals involved.

Should these efforts fail, litigation may be the only path forward, necessitating a formal legal process to settle the disagreement in court.

The importance of protecting your estate from contentious probate

Contentious probate is a difficult thing for your loved ones and family to deal with, especially on top of any grief they may already be experiencing.

However, there are ways you can protect your estate from contentious probate claims if you think there is a realistic probability of this occurring.

The best approaches to avoiding contentious probate involve:

  • Drafting clear Wills: Ensuring Wills are clearly written, accurately reflecting the testator’s wishes, and properly executed to prevent disputes over validity.
  • Professional legal advice: Engaging in comprehensive estate planning with professional legal advice to navigate complex legal requirements and anticipate potential areas of dispute.
  • Regular updates to estate plans: Keeping estate plans current to reflect changes in circumstances, wishes, or relationships, thereby reducing the likelihood of disputes. This includes updating your Will when you get any new family members, like children or grandchildren.

By understanding the intricacies of contentious probate and implementing preventative strategies, individuals can significantly reduce the chances of disputes, ensuring a smoother probate process.

This approach not only honours the deceased’s wishes but also protects the rights and interests of all parties involved.

If the prospect of contentious probate affecting your estate concerns you, seeking professional advice from a solicitor can provide you with peace of mind and ensure your estate is well-prepared to avoid potential disputes.

Please reach out to one of our team for guidance on any stage of contentious probate. We can help you achieve the right outcome.

Rachel Blackburn

Head of Wills, Probate and Older Client Services

I joined Mander Hadley’s Wills, Probate and Older Client Services Team in 2018.I specialise in the preparation of Wills, Probate and estate administration, trusts and trust administration and Lasting Powers of Attorney. I also have experience of care fee planning and appeals of Continuing Health Care decisions.