Who Can Contest A Will?

Disputed Wills Solicitors: Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, Broadstone, Wimborne

Not everyone has the right to contest a will. Only those with a genuine interest in the estate can apply for an award.

The law is generally clear about who can challenge the terms of a will but some matters can be at the discretion of the courts - so it pays to get specialist legal advice.

Contact Coles Miller Partner Simon Steele-Williams, (01202 355697) for expert help.

Wife, Husband of the Deceased

Under Section 1 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, claimants can include the wife or husband of the deceased - and also any former wives or husbands (provided that they have not remarried).

Former wives or husbands who have not remarried but have been in long-term relationships still have a valid claim - but the amount they can receive is at the discretion of the court. 

The court will take into account their circumstances so they may live at “neither a luxurious, nor poverty stricken level.”

Couples Who Are Separated Or Divorcing But Still Married

Until a Decree Absolute is granted, the husband or wife is entitled to contest a will. The Decree Absolute is the point at which the marriage is dissolved.

So a spouse will still have a claim on the deceased’s will, even if they were separated from the deceased or going through divorce proceedings.

In the case of long-term unmarried couples who are in the process of splitting up, the law is less clear. However, a person may be able to claim if they relied on the deceased for maintenance or were dependant on them (see further below).

Long-Term Partners of the Deceased

People who have not married but have lived with the testator (the person who made the will) in long-term relationships can also claim.

They must have lived together in the same household as if they were husband and wife - for at least two years before the deceased died. Also, the deceased must have died on or after January 1 1996.

People who were in a long term relationship but did not live together under the same roof may still qualify as claimants. However, it depends on factors such as whether they spent significant time at each other’s properties.

Children, Stepchildren, Adopted Children, Wards

Any child of the person who made the will is eligible to contest it.

Also eligible is any person who “at any time…was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage”.

This could therefore include stepchildren, adopted children and wards of the deceased if they “at any time stood in the role of parent” to the claimant.

It is important to note that the will pertains to the current marriage of the deceased. All previous wills become null and void when the deceased remarries.

What happens if the testator has married a number of times and subsequently spurned stepchildren from previous marriages? If the stepchildren were not treated as children at the time of the final marriage, they are unlikely to have any claim on the estate, unless they were being maintained by the deceased.

Children And Stepchildren From Relationships Where The Deceased Was Not Married

To reflect changes in modern life, the Inheritance & Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 (which came into force on October 1 2014) allows claims by children and stepchildren from relationships where the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership.

What matters in the eyes of the law is the nature of the relationship between the deceased and the claimant - not whether the deceased was married or not.

People Who Were Being Maintained By The Deceased

The 1975 Act also makes provision for legal challenges to wills by anyone who “was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased”.

This would usually require that the deceased must have been making “a substantial contribution in money or money’s worth towards the reasonable needs of that person”.

But how does the law define ‘partly’? How slender a link to the deceased does a claimant have to have for them to be eligible to dispute a will?

That is for the court to decide, depending on the facts of each case (unless the matter can be settled out of court).

Other Relatives, Long-Standing Friends, Paid Carers

Brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, nephews, nieces, cousins and long-standing friends do not generally qualify as being able to contest a will - unless they were maintained by or were dependant on the deceased, or were treated as being a child of the deceased.

Get Expert Help

Sometimes families squabbling over a will fritter away all the money on long and expensive legal arguments and proceedings - a scenario made famous by Charles Dickens in Bleak House.

Getting early, specialist legal advice will reduce the likelihood of this happening - protecting the estate and ultimately saving you money.

At Coles Miller we would always recommend avoiding going to court if possible - settling out of court is much quicker and more cost effective. Mediation has a proven record of success.

Obtaining early advice is vital as there is a time limit on making claims (usually six months from the date the Grant of Probate is issued).

Contact Coles Miller contested wills specialist, Simon Steele-Williams, (01202 355697) for expert advice on challenging or defending a will.

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