When a beloved family member dies, emotions are often running very high and a small grievance can quickly escalate into something much larger. Bereavements are always difficult to deal with, and this is particularly true if you feel as if you have been treated unfairly by the will that was left behind. Cases of wills being successfully challenged are becoming more commonplace, due to the growth of our ageing population.
The Validity of a Will
This is very strictly defined under English Law and a will must be made in writing and signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. They must also attest and sign the will in his or her presence. In some circumstances, the will can be signed in the presence of the person making it and at his direction. A valid will can only be made by someone who has the mental capacity to understand what they are undertaking and the extent of their estate. This becomes very difficult if the testator is suffering from an illness like Alzheimer’s or is terminally ill and under the influence of heavy medication.
Successfully Challenging a Will
To successfully contest a will, you must be able to prove that the person making it did not know about, approve of or understand its content. Certain circumstances surrounding the will may make it vulnerable to investigation, including a carer preparing the will or the main beneficially preparing the will for the deceased. You can also successfully challenge a will if you can prove that the testator was coerced into making it and would otherwise have not written it as it appears. Coercion includes physical violence, the threat of physical violence or the isolation of the deceased from other members of the family or social or legal services.
Things to Remember
It’s important to act quickly if you believe a will to be invalid, before assets are liquidated, split up or given away to beneficiaries. Probate actions are usually expensive to pursue, small claims reaching up to £10,000 and £250,000 and beyond for larger claims that involve considerable assets. Contesting a will is never something that should be undertaken lighting, regardless of the difficult feelings that arise after bereavement. It’s very unusual for successful challenges to a will to include the charge of forgery, as this is very expensive and difficult to prove.