Contesting a Will

If you feel you have grounds to contest a will, we advise you seek specialist legal advice as early as possible.

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Guiding you through the process to contest a will

The death of a loved one is a time fraught with emotion. You don't want the additional stress of dealing with contesting a will. However, family inheritance, will and trust disputes are unfortunately increasing.

Our lawyers specialising in contested wills, trusts and probate can help alleviate some pressure and achieve the best possible outcome for your family's wealth and relationships. We take a sensitive but pragmatic approach to resolving issues with inheritance.

Our team are experienced at working across a broad spectrum of estate and inheritance disputes, including trust disputes, problems with executors, will disputes, inheritance act claims, proprietary estoppel, court of protection problems, funeral and burial disputes and asset claims.

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Grounds to contest a will

Although it can seem unfair, and you may feel hurt at being left out of a will, it is not possible to contest a will just because you think you should be entitled to some of the deceased's estate. 

There are generally three ways in which a will can be contested. The first is when the will itself is thought to be invalid. The second applies if the will fails to make a 'reasonable financial provision' for someone who was maintained by the person immediately before they died. Finally, the third route relates to the doctrine of proprietary estoppel, whereby promises made by the testator can override the terms of the will provided certain criteria are met.

The validity of a will can be challenged on several grounds, those grounds being:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity 
  • Undue influence
  • Lack of knowledge and approval
  • Lack of valid execution
  • Forgery and/or fraud

Lack of testamentary capacity

The legal term "testamentary capacity" describes a person's mental ability to make or amend a valid will. The person making a will is called a testator. The will is invalid if the testator lacks testamentary capacity when making or amending the will. 

Undue influence

Undue influence is when a person has used influence, power, force, or coercion to make or alter a will that directly benefits them. 

If undue influence is the ground for contesting a will, showing that a person was coerced rather than persuaded is essential. However, the courts have recognised coercion in many forms. 

Lack of knowledge and approval

For a will to be valid, the person making it must understand its content and the impact of their wishes before they can approve it. 

If a solicitor drafts a will, it is usually read aloud to ensure it is understood before signing, but this is only sometimes the case. If a will is drafted in suspicious circumstances, it may be that the contents do not match the wishes of the deceased or that they did not understand the effect of the will. 

Lack of valid execution

For a will to be valid, it should be executed in compliance with the Wills Act 1837. This means specific rules need to be followed in its execution. In summary, a will has to be in writing, signed by the person making the will or by someone in their presence under their direction, and the signature should be acknowledged in the presence of two or more witnesses at the same time. 

The will does not have to be on paper; although the majority are, it's still valid, even if it's on cloth!

However, if the will is not correctly executed, there may be grounds for contesting. 

Forgery or fraud

If the signature of the person who made the will or the entire contents or part of the will are forged, then the will is invalid. Fraud may also result from someone's lies. For example, if the person making the will is told a lie about a beneficiary and, as a result of the lie, removes them from the will, that would be fraud. 

Reasonable financial provision

Depending on your relationship with the deceased, you may be able to claim reasonable financial provision if you were financially dependent on or maintained by them immediately before their death.

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Proprietary estoppel

Whilst promises are not generally enforceable in law, if certain criteria are met, a party can apply to the court to enforce the terms of a promise made by another about property. This remedy is known as proprietary estoppel.

To bring a claim under the doctrine of proprietary estoppel, you must be able to evidence the following criteria:

  • that a promise of property (or part of a property) was made to you by the deceased;
  • that you have relied upon that promise;  
  • that you have suffered detriment in reliance upon the promise and
  • therefore, it would be wrong for the promise not to be honoured.

These situations have commonly arisen in the context of farming, for example, where a child is promised the farm in return for working on the farm with little or no pay, and the owner of the farm then reneges on that promise in life or fails to provide them with the farm in their will.


If a will has been incorrectly prepared due to a clerical error, it is possible to apply to the court seeking rectification of the will to the form in which it was intended. 

Rectification would not apply to circumstances whereby the will writer misunderstood the effect of the will or the terms of the testator's instruction; rather, it applies only to clerical errors. In those circumstances, the court can change the will's wording to correct the mistake.  

The rules of intestacy

If there is no will when a person dies or the will is deemed invalid, then the person's estate will be distributed in line with the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy dictate a hierarchy of relatives who benefit from the estate. This may not be following the deceased wishes. 

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The process of contesting a will

If you suspect a will may be invalid, gathering as much evidence as possible to support your claims is essential. Typically, the following steps are helpful when considering a challenge to a will:

Request a copy of the will 

If a lawyer helped prepare the will, getting a copy of the will file from them is crucial. The will file usually includes notes that explain why the will was drafted a certain way, whether a capacity assessment was done, who provided the instructions for the will (such as if someone else introduced the person making the will to the lawyer), and whether the will was signed correctly. The will file is a valuable source of evidence that can be helpful in case of any challenges to the will.

Medical records request 

If you suspect that the person who made the will may have had issues with their mental capacity, it's essential to ask for a copy of their medical records. The medical records can show if there were any mental health problems like dementia at the time when the will was made and signed.

Witness testimony 

In cases where there are concerns about whether the person who made the will truly understood and approved of its contents or if there are suspicions of undue influence or fraud, there may not be much-written evidence to rely on. In such situations, gathering testimonies from witnesses close to the person who made the will can be helpful. These witnesses may be able to provide information about the person's vulnerability or whether a third party had a controlling or dominant influence over them.

Costs to contest a will in the UK

The cost of contesting a will can vary depending on multiple factors, such as the case's complexity, the legal fees charged by your solicitor or law firm, and the point at which the inheritance dispute is resolved within the legal process.

For instance, if the dispute is resolved through an initial letter agreeing that the will is invalid, the costs generally range from £750 to £2,000. However, if further negotiation is needed, such as through mediation, the costs may be around £10,000. If the dispute ends in court, the costs can be significantly higher. However, it's important to note that over 95% of inheritance disputes are settled without involving the court.

It is crucial to discuss and clarify the potential costs with your solicitor upfront. Based on the specifics of your case, we can provide you with an estimate of the expected costs. 

We understand the importance of transparency and will work with you to provide a clear understanding of the potential costs involved in contesting a will. We strive to find efficient and cost-effective solutions for our clients while navigating the legal process with professionalism and expertise.

In general, there are three main types of costs associated with contesting a will:

  • Legal fees: These are the fees the solicitor charges for their services, including drafting legal documents, representing you in court, and providing advice and guidance throughout the process.
  • Court fees: If the case goes to court, fees may be associated with filing documents, attending hearings, and other court-related expenses.
  • Other costs: Additional expenses may include obtaining expert opinions, gathering evidence, and hiring other professionals, such as barristers or forensic accountants, if needed for your case.

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Time limits to contest a will

You have the right to challenge a will without any time limitations, but the sooner you take action, the better. Estates are usually administered within 12 to 18 months after the person's death, and it's essential to make your case known before the assets have been distributed to ensure your claim is considered. However, claims for reasonable financial provision must be brought within six months of any Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration date.

Funding a legal claim

When contesting a will, the legal costs are typically borne by the person contesting the will, also known as the claimant or the challenger. These costs usually include solicitor's fees, court fees, and any other associated expenses.

In some cases, if the challenge goes to court and is successful, the costs may be recovered from the deceased's estate, meaning that the estate would be responsible for paying the legal expenses. Costs can sometimes be claimed from the unsuccessful party if the court deems appropriate. However, it's important to note that this is not guaranteed, and the court has discretion in awarding costs.

Contesting a will after probate

Taking prompt action is crucial if you suspect you have valid grounds for contesting a will. Notifying the executor(s) of the will of your claim before any distribution of assets takes place is generally easier. In cases where a will may be invalid, it is possible to enter a 'caveat' against the estate to prevent the issue of a grant of probate.

While contesting a will after probate has been granted is technically possible, it can pose practical challenges if assets have already been distributed. Therefore, if you believe you have valid grounds for contesting a will, it is advisable to take swift action and seek legal advice. 

Proactively engaging with the executor(s) and considering legal options at the earliest opportunity can help protect your interests and increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome in a will dispute. Remember, every case is unique, and seeking professional legal guidance is essential to understand the specific legal requirements and potential implications of contesting a will after probate has been granted.

Success rates of contesting a will in the UK

A survey conducted by OnePoll for IBB showed that 60% of people who decided to pursue an inheritance dispute received a financial benefit. 

Understanding the success rate of contesting a will in the UK is a common concern for individuals considering this legal action. While success rates can vary depending on various factors, such as the case's specific circumstances, the evidence available, and the legal expertise involved, it's essential to approach this topic with realistic expectations.

The success rate can depend on the merits of the grounds of dispute, the strength of evidence, and the legal strategies employed. Not all challenges to a will are successful, as the legal system places a high standard of proof on those seeking to contest a will.

In some cases, a successful outcome may involve settling through mediation or negotiation, while in other cases, it may require litigation and court proceedings. Success rates can also vary depending on the specific court jurisdiction and the judge's interpretation of the law.

Why choose us as your contentious probate lawyers

With extensive knowledge of all aspects of contentious probate, as well as personal taxation, property law and dispute resolution, where there are arguments or disagreements over a will, we can offer proactive and cost-effective solutions to complicated and difficult disputes.

As an award-winning, full-service legal practice, we pride ourselves on offering a holistic service to clients. We draw on the expertise of our colleagues across the practice, using a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle other legal issues that may arise.

Down-to-earth and practical, our lawyers are renowned for guiding clients clearly and methodically, providing bespoke advice to achieve the best outcomes. We also have a reputation for clear communication, making sure you understand your options and legal responsibilities.

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Before embarking on contesting a will in the UK, it's crucial to thoroughly assess whether the potential benefits of challenging the will outweigh the costs, risks, and time involved in bringing a legal challenge. Our experienced contentious probate team is well-equipped to guide you through this analysis, ensuring you make an informed decision that aligns with your best interests.

When contesting a will, court involvement may not always be inevitable. Depending on the circumstances, parties can reach an out-of-court agreement to resolve the dispute. In some cases, court approval may be required for the settlement. Our experienced legal team can explore all available options, including negotiation and alternative dispute resolution, to avoid the need for court intervention.

Challenging a will in the UK can be complex. To successfully contest a will, claimants must provide sufficient evidence to convince a judge on the balance of probability that the will is invalid. This requires thorough investigations and the gathering of compelling evidence. Our experienced legal team can guide you through this process, ensuring the necessary evidence supports your claim. 

The ability to contest a will depends upon the nature of the intended challenge. 

Inheritance Act claims 

To be eligible to bring an application under the Inheritance Act, you will need to have one of the following relationships with the deceased or meet one of the following criteria:

  • The spouse or civil partner or former spouse or former civil partner of the deceased (provided you have not remarried or formed a subsequent civil partnership);
  • The child of the deceased or treated by the deceased as a child in relation to any family in which the deceased had at any time stood in the role of a parent;
  • Any person who was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased immediately before his or her death.

Challenge to the validity of the will

To challenge the validity of a will in court, you must have what is known as legal standing, i.e. an interest in the outcome of the claim. Typically, you will either need to be a beneficiary of the terms of a previous will or, in the absence of a last will, you will need to be a beneficiary of the laws of intestacy. 

Proprietary estoppel

To be eligible to bring a claim under proprietary estoppel, you must be able to evidence the following criteria:

  • That a promise of property (or part of a property) was made to you by the deceased.
  • You have relied upon that promise, and 
  • you have suffered detriment in reliance upon the promise.

While it is impossible to entirely prevent someone from contesting your will, you can take steps to minimise the risk of such challenges.

One effective measure is to have your will prepared by experienced solicitors. This ensures the will is drafted in compliance with the Wills Act, properly considering the testator's capacity and understanding.

Solicitors can also provide expert guidance on best practices for signing the will. By entrusting the drafting and execution of your will to qualified professionals, you can reduce the likelihood of a successful challenge. 

There is no specific time limitation for challenging a will in the UK. However, it is advisable to act promptly, as the sooner you contest a will, the more likely it is to be a reasonable pursuit. This is because estates are often administered within 12 to 18 months of death, and assets may be distributed during this time.

It is crucial to make your case known before the distribution of assets to ensure that your challenge can be appropriately considered.

There is, however, a time limit to bring an application for financial provision under the Inheritance Act, being six months from the date of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration being obtained by the Personal Representatives.

A grant of probate can be temporarily halted by placing a caveat on the estate, which can be quickly done online. The executors can challenge the caveat by filing a "warning" against it. The caveat will be removed if no response is filed to the warning. However, if you wish to make the caveat permanent, you can enter an Appearance to a Warning, after which a court order can only remove it. Our lawyers can guide you through utilising a caveat to halt probate and protect your interests temporarily.

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