Challenging a UK Will – a brief guide

by Tim Bishop on June 11, 2014

Your Will says what should happen to the things you leave when you die and is intended to make sure that your wishes as to how these things are dealt with are followed. Increasingly, however, it is possible for Wills to be challenged following death, with a number of high profile cases being reported in the press recently. This area of law is known as “contentious probate” and it involves challenges, or claims, being made to the terms of a Will.

Can anyone bring a challenge?

No. Family members (husbands, wives, civil partners, and children, whether adult or under 18) are entitled to make a claim in certain circumstances.

If the Will provides little benefit for the husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased – say for example they received very little or nothing under the terms of the Will, which left large sums to other people, or to charity – then they can make a challenge to the terms of the Will on the grounds that it does not make “adequate provision” for them.

Dependent children can make a claim in the same way.

Adult children are only likely to be successful in making a claim if the parent who has died was supporting them financially before their death.

So how can a will challenge be made?

There are other grounds for making a challenge to the terms of a Will – just being annoyed that the Will didn’t leave you what you had expected is not enough.

Inadequate provision for a family member as outlined above

The Will is a forgery this can be extremely difficult to prove and handwriting specialists are likely to have to be involved

Capacity – If the person who has died was not able to understand the terms of their Will at the time they made it, the Will can be challenged. They might, for example, have been suffering from dementia, or another condition which affected their mental health. Such claims can be quite complex, as they are likely to involve obtaining the deceased’s medical records and involving medical experts.

Undue influence  – If someone felt under pressure to make their Will in the terms they did, then its terms can be challenged. For example, an elderly parent may have been put under pressure to make a Will benefiting only one of their children and excluding the others, or to benefit someone outside the family – such as a carer – as opposed to family members. Deception or intimidation may have been involved. If this is the case, the terms of the Will is going to be invalid

Executors’ conduct – The executors of a Will have a duty to deal with the estate they have been appointed to look after with due care. If they fail to do so, perhaps due to carelessness or even dishonesty, a beneficiary can claim against them.

Should I make a challenge?

You need to think very carefully before deciding to bring a challenge against the terms of a Will.

Contentious probate claims tend to be long running and expensive (as anyone who has read Dickens’ Bleak House, featuring Jarndyce –v- Jarndyce will know!) – and as you are likely to feel very emotional about whatever has happened to make you consider bringing the claim, it’s important to appreciate that you are also likely to find the proceedings stressful. There can be no guarantees that the case will end the way that you want it to –  and relationships within your family may, depending on the circumstances of the case, be irreparably damaged by the disputes involved in contesting a will.

The best course of action is to have an initial chat with a solicitor who specialises in contentious probate claims. They will be able to tell you whether your claim is realistic or not, and if it is, the likely costs involved. You can then make an informed choice.

Many solicitors claim to be experts in this field – make sure that the one you choose really is. You should spent time finding a solicitor with considerable experience of claims of this type who will have the specialist knowledge required to advise you at this difficult time.

Tim Bishop is the senior partner of UK law firm, Bonallack and Bishop. For expert legal advice on any aspect of executor disputes or inheritance claims, call them now on 01722 422300 – or for more information about contested probate visit their specialist website at


Tim Bishop
Having qualified as a Solicitor in 1986, Tim Bishop is a legal entrepreneur who owns leading law firm Bonallack & Bishop Solicitors. Find out why you should choose Bonallack & Bishop Solicitors: Visit
Tim Bishop

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