There are different costs for different contentious probate situations. These are sometimes paid from the deceased person’s estate, but in some cases will come out of the pockets of those that are disputing the will.
Contentious probate is another name for a disputed will. When you die, your will tells everyone what they should do with your estate. Your will decides who gets your money and your property.
If people don’t agree that your will was written properly, or if they feel that they didn’t get something they deserved from your estate, they have the option to contest a will and show that what’s written isn’t valid.
Read on to learn more about contentious probate, and what it might cost to contest a will.
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There are several different things that usually lead to contentious probate claims.
You might contest a will if you feel that it was written under duress, or if it was created in a way that means it didn’t comply with the law. This might be the case if the will was written before someone turned 18, if it was written when the person was under pressure from others or if it was signed in the presence of fewer than two witnesses. If the will isn’t signed by the person that wrote it, that’s a valid reason to contest it. You might also contest a will if you feel that it wasn’t written by someone in a sound state of mind.
According to the Inheritance Act 1975, you can contest a will if you feel that you weren’t treated fairly in it. If you don’t feel like you’ve been left what you deserved, a contentious probate claim could help you to get what you feel you should have been given.
This only applies in England and Wales; in Scotland, similar challenges can be made under the Succession Act 1964.
Anyone who feels that a will isn’t valid, due to being created under duress or not being legally binding, is able to challenge the will. Anyone who wants to contest a will under the Inheritance Act must be the spouse of the deceased, a former spouse (and not married again) or a long-term partner that lived with the deceased for at least two years before their death. Children or dependents of the person that died can also contest a will under these rules.
You must make a claim within six months if you’d like to contest a will. You must be able to show that you believe the will was misinterpreted, that it shouldn’t be valid or that there’s a good reason to believe that the will does not truly express the deceased person’s wishes during life.
You might need to explain why you think the deceased person didn’t write their own will, that the will was written under duress or they weren’t in the right state of mind.
You might contest the will if you feel that it hasn’t been executed properly, or if you were left out of the will despite being supported financially by the deceased whilst they were alive.
Contentious probate situations vary depending on all of the parties involved, and sometimes it can be a relatively fast process. Once a letter is submitted to the Probate Registry Office that contends the will, it could be agreed that the will is invalid almost immediately, usually if there’s a clear issue with it such as it isn’t signed.
However, if it isn’t a clear-cut case, you’ll be advised to attempt to resolve the problems with the other impacted parties. This could be through formal mediation or some other form of ‘without prejudice’ conversation.
‘Without prejudice’ refers to any form of communication (verbal or written) where neither party is conceding their position as being ‘right’ but they are trying to negotiate a middle ground. The key here is that the nature of these discussions cannot later be used in court, unless agreed by all parties.
If, after the mediation period, a resolution is no closer, then the case will move to court. Again, the court case could be resolved quite quickly or it could go to full trial in some extreme circumstances. There’s no real estimate on how long these trials can last as it will depend on the complexity of the estate and of the various parties involved.
In cases of contentious probate, costs are usually covered by the losing party after the event. Sometimes, however, the costs may be borne by those that incurred them. This means that if there’s an investigation into will validity, and the court agrees that contentious probate was reasonable, both parties may need to pay their own costs for the claim against it or for defending what was written in the will.
If you plan to contest a will, you should expect to cover any costs. Be prepared to pay for these out of your own pocket. Also be prepared to pay the costs of arguing against you in court, since you might need to cover the other party’s costs if you’re not successful.
Contrary to popular belief, the deceased’s estate will not usually cover any contentious probate costs. In fact, this is only likely to happen if there’s a neutral will executor that’s just carrying out the requests written into the will. The other will beneficiaries, or those that would argue that they should benefit from the estate, will need to cover their own contentious probate costs if they want to contest the will.
In very rare cases, third parties not involved in contesting a will may be asked to pay some of the costs. This might be a solicitor that helped to write the will but left too much ambiguity. People pay solicitors to make sure that their documents are legal, binding and effective. If a solicitor has written a will that’s confusing or unclear, they may be required to cover contentious probate costs.
The actual costs can vary. If the case is resolved immediately by the Probate Office, then your legal fees shouldn’t be too high – somewhere between £500 and £1,500 is reasonable, plus VAT.
If that initial letter doesn’t resolve the matter, but it’s sorted out before it reaches the courts – during the mediation fees – then you should expect to pay in the region of £7,500 to £10,000 plus VAT to your solicitors for setting up the meetings or sending communications, and ensuring they are managed correctly without prejudice.
If cases make it to court, then they can cost up to £20,000 if the court resolves them quickly, or up to six figures if a full trial is required. However, this is rare, as it’s estimated only 2% of cases go to full trial. Over half of all contested wills are resolved before even making it to the courts.
So, as you can see, the costs can be quite high, and they may be something you have to incur even if you win. You should look for a solicitor who works on a conditional fee arrangement (more commonly known as no win, no fee), but remember that if you lose and you’re expected to cover the losing parties costs, you’ll still be asked to pay for your solicitor’s hourly time.
Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s leading Contested Probate claim management companies. They have already helped thousands of people make successful probate claims and they can do the same for you.
Choosing an independent claims management company means they won’t proceed with a claim unless they are sure it is in your best interests. They are also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.
If you would like to speak to one of these claim management companies who can help you make a probate claim, then click on the below and answer the very simple questions.
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