Contentious Probate Case Study

Helen Hall
Associate Solicitor, Dispute Resolution

Client Situation

Our Contentious Probate Solicitors represented three siblings who had been excluded from their father’s Will. The family relationship between the children and their father had been strained and the deceased had been abusive to them and their mother when they were growing up.

Strangely, although there was contact between the father and the three children (one of whom lived abroad) after their mother’s death, they only discovered his death when one of them had visited their mother’s grave and found that their father was due to be buried the next day.

They then discovered that although he had left a Will, this did not mention them and the Solicitors who held the Will wouldn’t provide details of the Will because they didn’t benefit from the Will. The father had previously made a gift of a car to them and indicated that they would all benefit from his Will.

The siblings asked our Solicitors to try to obtain a copy of the Will and investigate the circumstances surrounding its making and if there was any reason for their exclusion. Our Solicitors also advised that they could consider a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (the Act) on the basis that as adult children, the Will didn’t make reasonable provision for them and to make a claim against the Estate on that basis.

All were adult children, and although one did have health and disability issues, they all owned their own homes and had some income, although none could be considered wealthy.

How We Helped

Our Contentious Probate Solicitors first had to prepare a formal letter requesting details of the Will and information from the Solicitors who prepared the Will.

We were successful in securing a copy, which showed that their father had left his Estate to a friend and an animal charity. The friend had died before the deceased so the whole Estate would have passed to the animal charity, despite the siblings all agreeing that their father had never had any association with the charity and disliked animals.

The other Solicitor’s papers also revealed that their father had advised his Solicitor that he had no children, but didn’t throw any further light on why they had been excluded. Following the review of the papers, our Solicitors advised the siblings to make a claim to contest the Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act.

This involved preparing a formal letter of claim and detailed statements for each of the children setting out the family history and their relationship with their parents, their current financial circumstances and addressing all of the issues that Court would consider when making a decision.

The children didn’t wish to override their father’s Will or wishes to the extent that the charity received no benefit, despite their belief that their father didn’t like animals and that his decision to exclude them and deny their existence may have been motivated by his previous behaviour towards them.

At the same time, we therefore also made an offer to the Executors dealing with the Estate. This made clear that the children didn’t wish to exclude the charity, recognising that they had a valid entitlement under the Will and that charities rely on bequests in Wills to carry out their activities. However, this was a well-funded charity and the children therefore offered to share the Estate with the charity.

Our Solicitors also agreed to enter into an agreement so that Court proceedings didn’t need to be issued, with a view to saving costs, whilst attempts were made to resolve the claim without the need for Court action.

The Outcome

Our Solicitors secured a compromise that involved the Estate being split so that the children received over 30% of the Estate value.

The settlement was made following the Supreme Court decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson, which had dealt with a contested Will claim made by an adult child against her mother’s Estate that had been left to charity. In that case, the mother had also given reasons for the daughter’s exclusion.

The Court upheld an award made to the daughter and acknowledged that the wishes of the deceased should be respected and all factors need to be considered, including the expectations of charities in relation to gifts from Wills.

Claims to contest a Will made by adult children remain difficult to pursue in the absence of clear financial need or disability and each case will depend on its particular facts.

For free initial case assessment call our Contentious Probate Solicitors

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