Contesting a Will: Inheritance, Influence, and Intentions
When a person creates a will, they do so on the assumption that their wishes will be carried out to the letter after they have died. As powerful and legally binding documents, if you are considering contesting a will of a family member, you need to have valid grounds to do so, based on one of the following criteria:
Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
When a parent dies, there are laws in place to ensure that their children are reasonably provided for – and if a child is completely removed from a will, then that person could have a claim to contest it. One of the most high-profile cases of this nature concerned the will of Heather Ilott’s mother, who left her estate to a number of charities – with nothing going to her daughter. This decision was challenged in the courts, and the decision found in Heather’s favour.
Lack of Capacity
When a person makes a will, they must prove understanding that:
- They know what making a will means
- They know what assets they posses
- They know who may expect to receive a claim
- They know that any mental incapacity will throw their will into question
If you believe that a person was not aware of any of those four things, then you may have a claim to challenge their capacity when drawing up that will.
A favourite trope in murder mysteries, undue influence means that the person who wrote the will was under pressure to make changes to their will without others knowing, or they were coerced or blackmailed into a different decision than they would want, or they felt unable to make their will in the way that they had decided. This is a very serious allegation, and solicitors often meet with their client alone to ensure that they are not under any undue influence.
If a promise has been made to a person when alive, and then the will is discovered to directly contradict this, then a will can be challenged to ensure that the estate is distributed as per the verbal wishes of the deceased – but significant evidence needs to be produced.
Paperwork processes are important, and if those processes are not followed then a will could be declared invalid. Whether it has not been signed correctly, or witnessed correctly, or several other reasons, all the wishes and intentions in that will can be challenged.
Lack of Knowledge and Approval
This is a simple one: did the person read the will that was perhaps written on their behalf? Did they confirm that they were happy with it before they signed it? If they did not have complete visibility on the will itself, then it could be claimed that they had a lack of knowledge of what it contained, and the will could be contested that way.
Often connected to a claim of lack of knowledge or approval, this is centred on the idea that a will has accidentally been recorded inaccurately; missing out a person’s name in a list, perhaps, or adding a zero accidentally!
Perhaps one of the most serious contestation grounds for a will, if you believe that a will has been forged then you should challenge it. A famous example of the importance of challenging a forged will is the case of Harold Shipman, the serial killer who was caught when he forged a will. Although it is unlikely to lead to such serious consequences, a forged will usually does not reflect the wishes of the deceased and so should be contested.
What can you do to contest a will?
If you believe that a will is covered by any one of these circumstances, then it can be a very distressing time. Please do get in touch with one of our solicitor experts to discuss your circumstances with us, and we will do what we can to help.