3 Ways to Keep Costs Low in a Will Dispute
Challenging a will is potentially expensive, especially through the court system. If the judge rules in your favour, then in addition to any money from the estate, the judge might order the defendant to pay your legal costs. However, if the judge rules against you, as well as having to pay your own costs, you might be ordered to pay the costs of the other side. Will disputes can be appealed, which draws out the process and drives up the costs of hiring lawyers to represent you, potentially over a period of months or years. Three ways to manage the costs of challenging a will are discussed in this blog.
No-Win No-Fee Arrangements help manage costs
A no-win no-fee arrangement is a potential way to keep costs manageable in a will dispute. In such an arrangement, you may not have to pay a lawyer to represent you, unless you win the dispute. Choosing a no-win no-fee arrangement prevents having to pay upfront, however the costs if you win the dispute might be higher. However, if you win the dispute, it is likely that any fees will be paid out of the money you gain from the estate, or from the other side. Before entering into a no win no fee arrangement, your solicitor will talk to you about the strengths and weaknesses of your claim and discuss likely outcomes as far as costs are concerned so you will have a clear idea about what may be involved.
Mediation can reduce costs
The court system renders will disputes expensive due to the cost of hiring someone to advocate for you in court as well as the risk of having to pay legal fees for the other side if the judge rules against you. It can take a long time for a matter to get to court too, which means legal costs can mount up. Mediation is an alternative method of resolving a will dispute without going to court. Unlike other types of civil dispute, in contentious probate there is no obligation to attempt mediation before going to court. Although it is not mandatory, it is important to consider whether mediation might be right for you, especially as it lowers the costs of will disputes.
Mediation involves engaging in discussion with the other side, with your lawyers present, in order to come to a solution that works for both parties. Will dispute mediation often takes less time than going to court, and for this reason, is associated with lower costs. There are other advantages to mediation such as the flexibility it offers in the type of agreement that is reached.
Building a Strong Case
In the case of Wharton v Bancroft (2011) EWHC (Ch) 3250, the daughters of a man who passed away after marrying his long-term partner shortly before his death challenged his will on the grounds of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity. The father had owned the company White Horse. During the dispute, the claimants called 40 witnesses, driving up the legal costs.
The judge ruled against the claimants, who were ordered to pay the fees of the other side, a total legal bill close to £1 million. The judge commented,
“I received the evidence of 40 (often partisan) witnesses. There were times when the case seemed simply to be a vehicle for the settlement of every grudge that anybody had against White Horse and its participants.”
The case of Wharton v Bancroft (2011) EWHC (Ch) 3250 illustrates the dangers of stretching a will dispute beyond grounds that are likely to succeed. It is important to build a strong case, because the more likely a will dispute is to be successful, the less likely you will have to pay a large legal bill for an unsuccessful dispute.
A strong case has to be focused, and evidence should be relevant to the particular grounds of the will dispute. Grounds of challenging a will include undue influence and lack of capacity. It is also possible to challenge a will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, to petition the court if someone you were financially dependent on leaves a will that does not make reasonable financial provision for you. Depending on which grounds you use to challenge a will, there are appropriate steps to take in order to build a strong case and avoid high legal costs. It is prudent to seek advice from an experienced and reputable will claim solicitor throughout the process to make sure your challenge has a strong chance of success.