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How to Contest a Will, Including Tips to Maximise Success

17 June 2024
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Navigating the complexities of a loved one's Will can be an emotionally and legally challenging process. If you believe that a Will does not accurately reflect the true intentions of the deceased or has been influenced by undue pressures, you may find yourself considering challenging the validity of a will. 

Contesting a Will is not a decision to be taken lightly; it involves a detailed understanding of the legal grounds, meticulous preparation, and often, a deep dive into sensitive family dynamics. This article aims to guide you through the critical steps and considerations involved in contesting a Will, from identifying valid grounds for contestation to potential outcomes at the end of the process.

How to Contest a Will: Step-By-Step

Contesting a Will is a complex process, requiring a clear understanding of the legalities involved and careful execution. Due to the tricky nature of this process, legal professionals are necessary to ensure the process is as thorough and smooth as possible. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate this challenging journey:

  1. Determine Your Legal Standing
  2. Seek Legal Advice
  3. Establish Grounds for Contesting
  4. File a Contest Petition
  5. Gather Evidence
  6. Attend Mediation and Settlement Conferences
  7. Prepare for Court
  8. Attend the Trial
  9. Await the Court’s Decision
  10. Consider Appeals

1 - Determine Your Legal Standing

In order to contest a will, you must have legal standing. This means you must be an interested party who stands to gain or lose something financially from the Will. Examples of people who may have legal standing would be beneficiaries named in either the current or previous Will, close relatives who would inherit under the intestacy rules if the Will is found to be invalid, or creditors with valid claims against the estate. 

2 - Seek Legal Advice

Seeking legal advice at the start of a Will contesting process is crucial for ensuring that your rights are protected and your case is pursued effectively. By engaging the expertise of a legal professional who has a proven track record in this field, you can navigate the complexities of contesting a Will with confidence and clarity and increase your chances of a favourable outcome. 

3 - Establish Grounds for Contesting

Legal professionals can help you identify the grounds for contesting a Will and help you understand whether you may have a valid case or not. Common grounds for contesting a Will include:

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity - Arguing that the testator lacked the requisite level of mental capacity, meaning they did not understand the nature of making a Will or the value of their estate at the time it was executed.
  • Undue Influence - Claiming that the testator was coerced or manipulated by someone else into making the Will.
  • Fraud or Forgery - Asserting that the Will is a result of fraudulent activity or has been forged, meaning it was not executed under the requisite legal formalities.

4 - File a Contest Petition

Initiate the contest by filing a petition with the probate court which is handling the Will. This petition should outline your relationship to the deceased, your grounds for contesting the Will, and the specific result you seek. 

5 - Gather Evidence

Collect all necessary documentation and evidence to support your claim. Consider what evidence is relevant and supports your case the most - this evidence could come in the form of medical records which indicatea lack of capacity, financial records indicating undue influence, or witness statements from those present during the Will’s execution. 

6 - Attend Mediation and Settlement Conferences

Many courts require mediation or settlement conferences before proceeding to a trial. These sessions aim to resolve disputes without a lengthy court battle, saving both parties the cost of court fees and the stress of attending court. Be prepared to negotiate if an agreed solution arises, but also understand your bottom line.

7 - Prepare for Court

If mediation fails, your case will then go to trial. You should discuss this outcome with a legal professional, who will develop a strong case strategy, prepare witnesses for testimony, and organise and present evidence effectively. Proceeding at this stage without legal advice may cause you to miss important details which could have swung the appeal in your favour. 

8 - Attend the Trial

During the trial, both sides will present their cases. The judge will hear testimonies, review evidence, and evaluate arguments. The burden of proof lies with the party contesting the Will - this means the responsibility to provide evidence and prove that the Will is invalid falls on the person challenging the Will.

9 - Await the Court’s Decision

After the trial concludes, the judge will make a decision. If the judge rules in your favour, the Will may be invalidated partially or entirely, and the estate will be distributed according to either a previous Will or intestacy laws. If the contest is unsuccessful, the Will stands as is.

10 - Consider Appeals

If you disagree with the court's decision, you may have the option to appeal. Discuss the feasibility and implications of an appeal with your legal representative, considering the time, cost and likelihood of success.

How Long Does Contesting a Will Take?

Due to several impacting factors, giving a “usual” time frame for contesting a Will is often tricky. Whilst a straightforward Will contest might be resolved within a year, more complicated cases can take several years to conclude, especially if they involve appeals. Typical factors which can affect the length of the process are:

  • Case Complexity - Straightforward cases with clear evidence might be resolved quickly, whereas more complex cases, involving extensive evidence and witnesses, may take longer.
  • Court Scheduling - The availability of the court can affect the timeline, since courts with a heavy caseload may take longer to schedule. 
  • Mediation and Settlement - If the parties agree to mediation or can settle the dispute out of court, the process may be significantly shorter.
  • Appeals - If the case is appealed after court, the process will take longer, potentially adding several months or even years to the overall duration.

Key Considerations When Contesting a Will

Choosing to contest a Will is a big decision, but certainly one which is necessary if you suspect an issue with the Will. However, there are important considerations to make before and during the contesting process, to avoid surprise costs and help you prepare - both emotionally and physically. For example:

  • Consider the impact of contesting a Will on family relationships
  • Understand the potential delays in estate distribution
  • Explore options for resolving the dispute outside of court
  • Be aware of statutory time limits for contesting a Will
  • Understand the possible outcomes of contesting a Will
  • Consider the costs and risks associated with contesting a Will

How Can a Solicitor Increase the Chances of a Successful Contest?

Legal professionals are essential before, during and after the Will contesting process if you want to maximise your chances of achieving a favourable outcome. Trying to navigate this complex legal terrain alone can be difficult without the assistance of a solicitor. 

Initially, they can provide a clear assessment of whether you have legal standing and valid grounds to contest the Will, which is crucial for the case to proceed. They meticulously gather and present compelling evidence, such as medical records, financial documents, and witness testimonies, to substantiate claims of undue influence, fraud, or lack of testamentary capacity. 

Additionally, a solicitor adeptly navigates the procedural nuances and ensures all legal requirements and deadlines are met, which prevents the case from being dismissed on technicalities. They also represent you in negotiations, mediations, and court proceedings, articulating your arguments effectively and countering the opposing side's claims.

Our Legal Team Are Here to Make This Process Smoother

At Culver Law, our solicitors in both London and Cambridge are here to assist you during the Will contestation process, supporting your rights every step of the way. Please contact us so we can discuss how we can help you.

Contact Us

T: 0203 633 6226
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Authorised and Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. SRA Number: 820401.

Culver Law, London
44 Southampton Buildings
0203 633 6226
Company No. 13313009

Culver Law, Cambridge
9 Hills Road
01223 653010

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