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Simon Steele-Williams - Partner, Coles Miller

Wills More Likely To Be Contested After Latest Appeal28th Jul 2015

As you probably know, contested wills cases are becoming increasingly common – and now the latest Court of Appeal decision has made challenges even more likely.Simon Steele-Williams - Partner, Coles Miller

A woman excluded from her estranged mother’s £500,000 will has just been awarded £164,000 by the court – even though the mother:

  • wrote in her will that the daughter should receive nothing
  • wrote to her lawyers: “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. She can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”
  • explicitly instructed the executors of her will to defend any claim the daughter might bring.

Very obvious instructions, you would think? Surely enough to guarantee that one’s last wishes would be observed?

But no – the will was challenged because the mother was judged to have not made reasonable provision for her daughter in her will. Instead she had elected to leave her £500,000 estate to charity.

So now even wills with clear cut instructions are open to challenge – and all the publicity following this latest high profile case will inevitably add to the already rising tide of disputed wills.

Does that mean drafting a will is now a pointless exercise if such obvious intentions can be overruled?

No – absolutely not. Wills still mean something. A will is an extremely important and valuable document that is vital if you are to safeguard the future of your loved ones.

A will can still be drafted in a sufficiently robust way to withstand challenges. But it requires expert legal help.

So why were the executors unable to defend the mother’s will when she had made her intentions so clear?

We always recommend supporting a will with a letter of intent – but a simple letter is not enough. It must be written the right way.

The mother in the appeal case had backed up her will with a letter to her lawyers. It explained her wishes but she missed out an important detail…

She explained what she wanted…but not why. It is vital to explain the reasoning behind bequests (or decisions not to bequeath). If not, one’s intentions could be open to challenge.

The mother’s other big mistake was to leave her money to charities to which she apparently had no previous connections. That weighed against her when the case went to appeal.

Are you contesting a will? Act quickly – there is a six-month time limit for legal challenges. It can be extended but only under exceptional circumstances. These are the grounds for disputing a will.

Are you defending a will or worried that your last wishes could be challenged? This latest appeal case shows how important it is to get specialist legal advice.

For expert help, contact Coles Miller litigation Partner Simon Steele-Williams who specialises in contested wills cases.

This document is not intended to constitute and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific matter. No liability for the accuracy of the content of this document, or the consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. If you seek further information, please contact Managing Partner Neil Andrews at Coles Miller Solicitors LLP.