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What is Contentious Probate?

Contentious Probate Explained

Contesting how a deceased person’s estate is divided after they have died is known as contentious probate. While contesting a Will can add upset and difficulty to an already challenging time, there may be grounds for challenging what’s detailed in the Will. Kent tax advisors can guide you through the ins and outs of estate management but it’s important to have a good understanding of contentious probate if it impacts you.

The Purpose of a Will and Reasons for Contesting

A Will gives the deceased control beyond the grave. And in English law, respecting the wishes of the person who has died is of paramount importance. An estate must be divided in accordance with what the person who has died wanted – even when this is not what family and friends had hoped for. In other words, it’s not OK to simply contest a Will because you disagree with the Will’s contents (or wanted more for yourself).

That said, contentious probate can be pursued if you believe the Will does not reflect the true intentions of the person making the Will, or the Will hasn’t been executed properly. For a Will to be valid it must have been made in writing, voluntarily and without influence. The person who wrote the Will must have been over the age of 18, of sound mind and in the presence of two witnesses. The two witnesses must have also signed the Will, in the presence of the person who created the Will. The person making the Will must have signed it too. If any of these rules weren’t followed, it could invalidate the document.

If you suspect someone wrote a Will or signed it without knowing what they were doing or were impacted by a medical condition such as dementia which might have affected their mental capacity, then speaking to a probate expert would be advisable.

Inheritance Act 1975

Another reason for contesting a Will is if sufficient financial provision has not been made for a loved one. In this case, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 will detail who can claim. A claim would be for what should be reasonably expected after the death of a loved one. Perhaps a baby was born soon after death and before changes to a Will could be made. In this case, the Will might be contested in order to provide for this new life. Again, there’s lots of small print here, so it’s best to seek legal advice.

What if There is No Will?

If the deceased didn’t leave behind a Will, the estate will be distributed in line with the rules of intestacy. These rules are inflexible, make no arrangement for unmarried partners or dependants and don’t honour verbal promises made by the deceased when they were alive. For example, a farm worker might have been promised a percentage of the farm but this was never placed formally in a Will. In circumstances like this, a professional should be contacted to help navigate disputes.

To resolve contentious probate situations, always make a Will and ensure that your legal document is legally binding and valid. For help with managing the estate of a decedent, contact a Kent accountant for probate services.

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