What is contentious probate?

Contentious probate is a term referring to disputes about the administration of someone's estate after their death.

It is always difficult when we lose a loved one, and if there are issues with how the estate is being administered, it can make things even more challenging. If you believe that someone's estate is not being correctly handled, we can assist you in contesting probate. Our expert team of solicitors specialises in resolving probate disputes, such as:

  • How the will is interpreted
  • Disputes between the beneficiaries
  • The valuation of assets
  • The mismanagement of the estate by an executor

If the person has died intestate, i.e. leaving no will, we can also help you should you wish to challenge the division of their estate. Estates are sometimes very complicated, especially where trusts, international assets, and extensive property holdings are involved. You need to know that everything is being handled fairly while protecting its value.

What are the reasons for contentious probate claims?

The grounds for the most significant number of contentious probate claims are that the will is invalid. However, claims are also frequently made for 'further provision' from an estate when someone, usually a parent or spouse, believes that financial provision should have been made for them.

There are various reasons for challenging wills; for example, that the testator (the individual who made the will) did not have the mental capacity or did not approve or know of the content of their will. This could be because of the involvement or influence of someone else. A will may also be challenged if there is reason to suspect fraud or forgery.

What does the law say about challenging a will?

Under English law, an individual can leave their estate to anyone they wish. Testamentary freedom, as the principle is known, is paramount, provided that the person has the mental capacity, their wishes are correctly documented in their will, and they are acting freely and of their own volition.

On occasion, a will may be valid, but someone, often a family member, believes that it should have provided them with reasonable financial provision. In this case, they might bring a claim for a more generous proportion of the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Likewise, if the person has died intestate and the statutory intestacy rules have proved unfavourable to their situation, they may also have grounds for making a claim.

However, someone who feels they have not inherited as much as they think they should have could not claim on the grounds of unfairness alone or because the terms are not to their liking. They must be able to provide evidence that the deceased person had previously maintained them financially.

There are numerous other types of contentious probate claims, including:

  • Construction claims, i.e. a claim to clarify the meaning of a will where this is not clear.
  • Rectification claims where a mistake has been made in the will.
  • Proprietary estoppel: a claim where a promise made during the deceased's lifetime has not been honoured in the will. These claims most often involve farms, where someone has worked on the family farm on the understanding that they would inherit it either partly or wholly.
  • Claims about "lifetime gifts" regarding their validity, whether the deceased person knew about and approved them, and whether they had capacity.
  • "Resulting trust" or constructive claims regarding the ownership of a property.
  • Executor disputes between executors and beneficiaries or between executors regarding how they have dealt with the estate.
  • Professional negligence claims regarding estate administration or the drafting of a will.

Other more unusual claims also come under the category of contentious probate. These include "donatio mortis causa" claims or disputes to do with deathbed gifts and disagreements regarding the deceased person's ashes.

At Churchers, we understand that it can be painful to deal with these issues when grieving, but if you feel you have a claim, it is advisable to seek legal advice and act quickly. Our specialist team of contentious probate solicitors is very experienced in dealing with inheritance disagreements and is here to help find a fair resolution as quickly as possible.


For more information, please telephone us: 02392 820 747 or contact us with your details and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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