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Grounds for contesting a will

02 August 2019

If you think someone’s will may not be legally valid, you may be able to challenge it

There are many ways in which the validity of a will can be challenged as part of an inheritance dispute. These include whether the testator (the person who made the will) had knowledge and approval of what they were doing, whether it was properly signed by the testator, and whether there was a lack of testamentary capacity. Some of the grounds for contesting a will, which we explore in a bit more detail below, include:

  • the will has been forged or created or altered fraudulently
  • the will was drafted incorrectly
  • the testator was under ‘undue influence’
  • the testator lacked mental capacity
  • the testator lacked knowledge or approval of the contents of the will.

If you suspect a will is invalid, and you would like to challenge it on this basis, it is important to seek legal advice straight away.

Alternatively, if the will is valid, but you feel that you’ve been left out, treated unfairly or have not been properly provided for by a  family member or someone you depended on, you might be able to make a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975.

Has the will been properly executed?

There are strict rules governing the signature of wills. It is not unusual for the person making the will, and their witnesses, to get this wrong. Clerical errors can lead to invalid wills, as can poor drafting which makes the testators wishes unclear or unable to be properly fulfilled.  Where a will is invalid as a result of drafting errors we can advise on bringing claims for professional negligence against solicitors or will writers.

  • Has the will been altered or forged?

From time to time we deal with cases where there is a suspicion that the will has been altered or forged in some way, or that it has been created fraudulently. For example, the handwriting or signature on the will might be different from that of the person who was supposed to have made it.

  • Was the person under pressure (put under undue influence) to make the will?

The courts understand that sometimes vulnerable people are pressurised or coerced into making a will on terms which they are not happy with. This is known as ‘undue influence’.

  • Did the person have the mental capacity to make a will?

To have mental capacity to make a will, a person must fulfil several different criteria, such as knowing the consequences of making their will, and knowing the contents of the estate they are leaving behind. Namely, they’ll need to understand what they’re doing and be of ‘sound mind’. If the person has an illness that prevents them from thinking rationally, that can cause doubt about their mental capacity. Lawyers refer to this as ‘lack of testamentary capacity’.

  • Did the person have knowledge of and approve the contents of the will?

If there are any suspicious circumstances around how the will was made, then this may cast doubt over the validity of the will, and whether a court would find that the deceased could have known and approved the contents. An example of this would be if one of the major beneficiaries played a big part in arranging or even writing the will themselves.

The right people by your side

Our specialist solicitors and lawyers are approachable and experienced in this area of the law and can help you to bring or defend claims.

We know that challenging someone’s will can be an emotional experience for many. We handle each case with sensitivity and care, preserving relationships wherever we can and striving for an early resolution.

We also know what it takes to successfully bring or defend a claim over the validity of a will.

Our specialist solicitors and lawyers have a wealth of experience in all types of claim involving inheritance disputes and contentious probate. We count members of STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) and ACTAPS (the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists) among our highly-regarded team, and we’re rated for this specialism in independent legal guide The Legal 500 UK.

We're here to help

To talk to us about whether you have grounds for contesting a will, or to discuss challenging the validity of someone’s will, please call us on 01242 514000 or email paul.gordon@willans.co.uk.

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Paul Gordon LLB
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