Contested trusts and probate
The death of a loved relative or friend can be very hard to deal with. Bereavement and the feelings of sadness and loss can be all-consuming, blocking your ability to function normally and deal with practical issues.
That’s only natural but nonetheless there are practical matters to address, even if they jar with your sense of grief. This can be particularly acute when it comes to dealing with disputes over inheritance and wills. The combination of heightened emotions and complex administration can seem both unseemly and overwhelming and people feel they have to put their grief on hold until matters are resolved.
At Morrisons we will help you to navigate the process and address any issues that arise, such as when a will is contested, sensitively and clearly. We will help you work through any disputes and ensure that the distribution of the estate is as it should be, taking the stress away from you and replacing it with the reassurance of having an expert on your side.
We can also help you deal with the issues that arise when the deceased has not left a will, known as intestacy. Our legal team will help you understand how to approach the distribution of the estate. Or you may have concerns about the way an elderly or vulnerable person is being influenced or manipulated when making a will. We have specific expertise in this area and can advise you, and if necessary, act for the vulnerable individual to ensure that their interests are protected and their wishes respected.
Below is a quick overview of a number of the ways in which the Morrisons team is able to support you, and your family.
Administration of Estates, Trusts and their assets
- claims by and against executors
- executors performing poorly
- claims involving agreements made prior to death regarding property
- businesses and unusual assets
In every bereavement, the hope is that the will and distribution of the estate can be dealt with efficiently, respectfully and in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. But sometimes there are problems with how the will was written and recorded, conflicting claims or prior agreements, or issues with the performance of the executors.
When disputes do arise, we aim to conclude your case as quickly and amicably as possible. We deal with these matters sensitively and discreetly, wherever possible pursuing a solution that does not involve the cost and delay of courts.
Our team is led by Kellie Williams-Jauvel, who is an ACTAPS (the association for lawyers specialising in contentious trusts and probate work) accredited litigator.
Challenges to wills
- validity of wills
- rectification of errors in wills
- mutual wills
- secret trusts
- claims regarding lack of mental capacity
- ambiguous, home-made, and unqualified ‘will-writer’ prepared wills
- promises made by the deceased about property and finances that have influenced an individual’s expectations and life decisions
Following a bereavement, the hope is always that the will has be written and witnessed properly and that the estate can be distributed quickly and efficiently. However, there are times when this is not the case and a challenge is made to the will, perhaps by or on behalf of a person who is named as a beneficiary, or someone who is not but feels they should be, or someone who questions the circumstances in which the will was made.
You can challenge a will on a variety of legal grounds, including: [links]
- Technicalities – sometimes a will is incorrectly prepared or witnessed. In this case, the will is usually deemed to be totally invalid, and the estate is administered as if there is no will in existence.
- Lack of mental capacity – in some cases, a person who has drawn up a will is considered not to be mentally capable enough for it to be valid. Instances where this might apply include when an elderly person is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease to the point where their faculties are impaired, or where a person is taking strong prescription medication or is dealing with substance abuse (drugs or alcohol). In these cases, the individual may not have the capacity to make a will, or, if it has already been prepared, to fully comprehend what they are signing. The individual may not recognise this lack of capacity, and the issue may only come to light after they have died.
- Lack of knowledge or approval – it can be the case that a testator – someone who has made a will – does not know and/or understand the nature of the will that has been signed.
- Undue influence – sometimes family members may pressure or coerce an individual making a will to make provision in their favour or someone else’s. A will can be rendered invalid on this ground.
There are other circumstances in which you may wish to make representation against the estate of a deceased relative or friend. These include promises that may have been made during life and on which you have made significant, life-influencing decisions. You may for example have been promised ownership of the house in which you are living and therefore elected not to buy or save for another, only to find that the will makes no such provision and that the estate does not intend to honour the promise. Or you may have been promised a sum of money and advised not to save for a pension, again only to find that the estate has other plans. The technical terms for this is [proprietary and promissory estoppel]
Our Dispute Resolution team has long experience of dealing with such issues and will try to find a solution as quickly and discreetly as possible. We pride ourselves on achieving practical solutions to disputes about wills and inheritance, and our experienced lawyers are members of Resolution (Solicitors Family Law Association) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the specialist professional bodies that apply to these matters.
Inheritance Act claims
Inheritance Act claims can be brought by individuals who feel that a will makes inadequate financial provision for them. You can bring a claim in a number of circumstances:
- whether or not there is a will in existence
- by a current or former husband, wife, or same-sex civil partner
- by a cohabitee of more than two years
- by an adult or minor child of the deceased, or other dependents
Calculating the value of a claim can be complex and will take into account several elements, including the needs of the claimant, the needs of other beneficiaries and the size and nature of the estate.
Applications to the Court of Protection
- Statutory wills – for those who lack mental capacity
- Regulation of the action of Attorneys
- Applications to deal with a patient’s assets
In some circumstances an individual may be unable to record a will satisfactorily. They may lack mental capacity or be too ill. In these cases it is vital that anyone involved in shaping their will is acting in their best interests and with respect for their likely wishes.
At Morrisons, we have extensive experience of advising on matters relating to, and of representing vulnerable individuals , acting to preserve their interests and wellbeing and, where necessary, protecting them from financial abuse. We are also panel lawyers for the Court of Protection and individuals within our team are appointed to act as deputy for vulnerable adults, and to take control of their affairs when relatives are unable or unsuitable to do so.