Although there are many reasons why a person may decide to contest a will, they all concern the validity of the will. It is never easy to contest a will because there are legal complexities involved. In addition, the person contesting the will is usually one of the bereaved. The majority of people who contest a will in England hire a specialist lawyer practicing under British law. However, some people contest informally without a lawyer.
Establish your reason for disputing the will's validity. The four main criteria that determine the validity of a will include signatures, witnesses, understanding and intentions.
If you believe there is doubt or confusion regarding any of these factors, you have sufficient cause to begin the process of contesting the will.
Check the validity of the signature on the will. If you believe the signature on the will is not the signature of the deceased, refer it to a specialist. When contesting on these grounds, do so formally. Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action to take with regards to making your case.
Establish the validity of the witnesses. For a will to be valid, it needs to be witnessed by a party who doesn't stand to benefit from the estate. If you suspect the legitimacy of the witness, gather as much evidence as you can to support this claim.
Establish the deceased person's understanding of the will. This criterion is objective and more difficult to prove than the validity of a signature or witness. Gather written statements or legal testimony from potential witnesses if you believe the deceased did not understand the will or was not in a sound state of mind when he made it.
Establish the intentions of the deceased. The intentions of the deceased must be clearly and truthfully reflected in the will. If they are not, or if the will seems unduly biased towards a potential beneficiary, you can contest on these grounds. For example, if you can prove that the deceased was a member of a liberal organisation and the will names a far right organisation, the will may not be a true and accurate reflection of the intentions of the deceased.
Write to the executor of the estate seeking a resolution to any grievances you have. Doing so independent of a lawyer is known as an informal contention. Clearly outline your reasons for contesting the will and state any proof you have and the resolution you are seeking. Keep a copy of all correspondence and send the letter by registered mail. If this approach fails, hire a lawyer and begin formal proceedings.
Hire a lawyer. The Law Society can provide names of suitable lawyers based on the areas of law they specialise in and their locations.
Instruct your lawyer to formally contest the validity of the will. She will then petition the court and set a hearing date. Give the lawyer as much information about the grounds upon which you are contesting the will as you can.
Contest the will informally first, whenever possible. This proves your intention to settle any dispute amicably should you appear in court.
Discuss legal fees upfront before hiring a lawyer.
Tips and warnings
- Contest the will informally first, whenever possible. This proves your intention to settle any dispute amicably should you appear in court.
- Discuss legal fees upfront before hiring a lawyer.