Contentious probate refers to any disagreement relating to the administration of a person’s estate following their death. Consulting a solicitor should be your initial step if you believe a loved one’s estate is not being administered appropriately. A good solicitor will help you resolve disputes relating to:
- How a will is interpreted
- The value of the related assets
- An executor who has mismanaged the estate
- Disagreements between beneficiaries.
You can also challenge how an estate is distributed if there is no will.
Defending a contested will
A good solicitor will guide you through the process of defending your position if someone is attempting to:
- Contest a will’s validity
- Make a claim for inadequate provision
- Dispute how the estate has been distributed if the owner died without leaving a will
- Remove you as the estate’s executor
- Claim for Proprietary Estoppel (if they were seriously disadvantaged by something they were promised and did not receive).
Challenges to a will can disrupt the process of administering the estate and reduce what you’re entitled to if you are a beneficiary. THis can be both emotionally and financially distressing. Your solicitor will help you protect your position and resolve the dispute swiftly and satisfactorily.
International trust & succession dispute resolution
An expert solicitor can help you resolve disputes over international trusts and succession issues. International trust and succession disputes can be caused by various issues and result in serious consequences for the trust and its beneficiaries. Negligent or fraudulent trustees can do lasting harm to a trust and its assets.
In some cases, trustees face challenges by beneficiaries or difficult requests for information from beneficiaries. In other instances, trusts may be mismanaged or beneficiaries may receive less than expected from an international trust or will. There may also be issues relating to trust documents, which you will need legal guidance with to ensure assets are protected and distributed correctly.
Challenging an executor of a will
If you think a loved one’s estate is being mismanaged by an executor, legal guidance may be required. As the person responsible for dealing with the deceased’s estate, the executor is required to:
- Collect the deceased’s assets
- Pay any outstanding debts
- Prepare accounts listing the estate’s assets and liabilities
- Distribute the estate according to the will
If you believe the executor is failing in their duties, you may be able to make a claim against them. You can also make a court application to have an executor removed from their role. Consult an experienced solicitor to help you with these issues.
Interpretation of the terms of wills
Wills may be difficult to understand, so you should seek specialist advice if you are dealing with one that is unclear or has errors in it. A solicitor can help you if you believe:
- The person who drafted the will did not reflect the deceased’s wishes for how they wanted their estate to be distributed.
- There has been a clerical error.
Conflicts over interpretations of wills can create divisions in families and disputes with executors A good solicitor will take evidence of any errors and the deceased's intended meaning to apply to the court for changes (a process called rectification).
If you are involved in a dispute caused by unclear wording in the will, a solicitor can also help you apply to the court to interpret the will (a process called construction).
Executor who has mismanaged an estate
The executor of your loved one’s will has a range of onerous responsibilities. If you believe they have mismanaged the deceased’s estate, whether through neglect, lack of expertise, or outright fraud, you may be able to challenge their role as executor. Executors have a duty to:
- Gather the deceased’s assets
- Ensure debts are paid from the estate
- Provide accounts detailing the estate’s assets and liabilities
- Allocate the inheritances according to the will
An executor who is failing in any of these duties may have a case to answer in court and could be removed from their role following a court application. An expert solicitor can help you to address these kinds of issues.
Contesting probate when there is no will
When a loved one dies without a will (intestate), managing their estate can be challenging. A good solicitor will guide you through the process and help you to obtain your entitlements. The Rules of intestacy identify those who can inherit from an estate, but they may not be true to the deceased’s wishes or personal relationships. Your solicitor can help if you are dealing with:
- Disputes over the estate’s administration
- Failure to provide for the deceased’s unmarried partner
- Failure to make reasonable provision for a child or dependant
- An estranged spouse being named as a beneficiary
The rules of intestacy do not consider unmarried partners or any unwritten pledges the deceased might have made in their lifetime. If you believe that an inheritance has been unfair to you, your solicitor can help.
Those who give professional will and estate-planning advice are required to act in their clients’ best interests. This duty may extend to the clients’ beneficiaries. Professional negligence occurs when a professional errs or fails in their duty towards clients and beneficiaries. This can involve:
- Making clerical mistakes
- Supplying inaccurate tax or legal advice
- Delaying preparation or drafting of a Will
- Recording a client’s wishes inaccurately
- Not ensuring that a will is valid and properly executed.
Making a professional negligence claim may help to amend an error or rectify any losses you may have suffered. Sometimes the mistake can be prevented from affecting anyone, but errors are often noticed only when the estate is being administered. This can cause disputes, which legal guidance can help you with, through mediation and court representation.
Challenging a lifetime gift
People have a range of reasons for making gifts from their estate during their lifetime. Giving money, property, or business shares can minimise inheritance tax on an estate and it can also provide beneficiaries with resources when they need them. Nonetheless, a lifetime gift must be made for the right reasons and in line with the wishes of the person making it (the donor). Your solicitor could help you challenge a lifetime gift if:
- The donor lacked the mental capacity to make it.
- An individual with power of attorney over the donor’s financial affairs made the gift on their behalf without the Court of Protection’s approval.
- The donor was pressured or coerced into making the gift (known as undue influence)
- The gift was the result of fraud.
A lifetime gift may also be made with the express intention of preventing a claim being made on the estate after the donor’s death. This could be done to stop someone making a claim for financial provision or to stop creditors using some of the estate to settle the deceased’s debts. Gifts are also made to deliberately avoid having to pay care costs. Gifts designed to circumvent the law can be challenged.