A fountain pen to sign and execute a will

How to Contest a Will Without Challenging Its Legal Validity (Part 1 of 2)


This is another example of a recent Will contest claim involving the widower of the deceased. In this case, our client who had been married to the deceased for over 20 years and whose older wife (he was 12 years her junior) sadly died prematurely due to cancer. Not only did this happen but when her Will came to light, it revealed she had left him nothing in the expectation that because they owned the matrimonial home jointly, he would inherit it outright as the survivor (of the two joint owners). As usual in these Will contest claims, the matrimonial home was the most valuable asset. However, she also had a number of valuable investments amounting to approximately one third of her estate (but which was worth almost £1M). These she left to be dealt with by her Will, which was made last minute, after an apparent fall-out with our client. Under its terms, our client received nothing. Instead, her estate was left to her friends and work colleagues.

Why does property owned by the deceased not form part of her estate?

This is a problem with jointly owned property, typically a house. In English and Welsh law there are two types of joint ownership.

Tenants in common

Without being too technical, one is called a “tenancy in common” and is designed to deal with the position where each joint owner has a defined share. This is often 50:50. This type of joint ownership can usually be identified by a search with the Land Registry ( The Land Registry title for each property has a “Proprietorship Register” identifying the owners. If the property is owned by the joint owners as “tenants in common” then it will contain a “Restriction” against one of the owners selling it without the consent of the other; alternatively with the consent only of the Court.

Where a joint property is owned as “tenants in common” by the deceased, his or her defined share, will fall into his or her estate, to be dealt with under the terms of his or her Will.

Joint tenants

In our case, the deceased wrongly believed that the form of joint ownership in relation to the matrimonial home, was under the other type of joint ownership, which is as so-called “joint tenants” (nothing to do with renting the property!). This type of joint ownership assumes that the owners haven’t formally decided on their specific shares in the property. Perhaps the best way of understanding it is to assume that each owner has theoretically combined their shares so that they have merged into one – possibly also reflecting the nature of their relationship or marriage in the old-fashioned sense.

When one of the joint owners of the matrimonial home owned as “joint tenants” dies, his or her share automatically passes to the survivor, notwithstanding the contrary terms of a Will by the deceased. In other words it does not form a part of the deceased’s estate.

This is what happened in our case. The deceased mistakenly assumed that her share of the matrimonial home would pass to her husband automatically, because she believed she jointly owned it with her husband as “joint tenants”. In fact she owned it with him as “tenants in common” and their respective defined shares amounted to 50% each, worth individually approximately £900,000 (as the property had a value in the region of £1.8M).

In consequence, she ended up leaving him nothing at all!

In part 2, we explain how this was contested without actually disputing her Will

If you consider that any of these facts and matters are likely to apply to you, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential no strings chat.