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Left without an Inheritance? What can you do?

If you’ve been left without an inheritance, what options do you have to challenge a will?

There have been a number of high profile examples of people challenging a will because they feel they feel cheated of their inheritance. Not only that, a number of high profile figures have announced that they will not be leaving an inheritance for their children: Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, cook and writer Nigella Lawson, Sir Elton John, Andrew Lloyd Webber have all publicly expressed their intention that their children will need to stand on their own two feet and not rely on an inheritance. Admittedly, dig deeper, and it doesn’t appear that their offspring will be left with nothing under the terms of their high profile parents’ wills, but should that be the case, or should they feel they haven’t been left ‘enough’, what can they do?

Challenging a will

If you feel that you have missed out on an inheritance, that you should have been left something in a particular will – may be your parents, a grandparent, or someone who treated you like a child or grandchild, one option open to you is to challenge the will on the grounds that it is somehow invalid and does not accurately represent the wishes and intentions of the person who made the will (the ‘testator’).

If you challenge a will in this way and succeed, the result will be that the will is declared invalid, and the inheritance will then be distributed according to the most recent will that exists before the invalid one, or according to the rules of intestacy if there is no other will. It’s always important to establish what would be the result if you are successful when you challenge a will – if the result would be that you would be worse off than under the will you are considering disputing, then a challenge would be counterproductive.

There are very specific grounds on which you can challenge a will, including:

  • Did the testator have ‘mental capacity’ to make the will?
  • Did the testator ‘know and approve’ the contents of the will?
  • Was the testator placed under ‘undue influence’ to make the will?
  • Was the will validly signed and witnessed?

You will need to take specific advice about the basis for your challenge, and what the outcome could be.

Claiming Maintenance under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act) makes it possible for someone who feels they haven’t been left an inheritance but should have received something, or who has been left an inheritance but doesn’t feel they have been left enough, to make a claim for ‘maintenance’. Crucially, this type of claim does not involve a challenge to the validity of the will itself, it merely examines how the testator’s estate has been distributed under the will, and if necessary makes changes to that distribution.

The Inheritance Act sets out who can bring a claim for maintenance, and the claims can only be for ‘reasonable financial provision’. Essentially, there is also a balancing act to be carried out looking at the needs of the person bringing the claim and those people named as beneficiaries in the will. You can’t take action before the testator has died – so should the children of Lawson, Lloyd-Webber et al feel aggrieved at their parents’ stance the only action they can take at this stage is to retain papers and any other evidence about your financial position that might be useful following the death of their parent. Indeed, we would hope that these provisions have already been discussed with the children concerned!

When looking at ‘reasonable financial provision’, the courts will look at a number of factors, including:

  • The financial resources and needs the applicant – and any other applicant – has or might have in the future
  • The financial resources and needs of any beneficiary of the estate under the will
  • The obligations the testator had towards any applicant under the Inheritance Act, and towards any beneficiary
  • The size of the estate
  • Any disabilities affecting the applicant
  • ‘Any other relevant circumstances’

Claims under the Inheritance Act must be brought within 6 months of the grant of probate, and although this time limit can be extended in exceptional circumstances, it is usually strictly observed, so taking advice and action early is important.

In either case, whether you want to challenge the validity of a will, or bring a claim for maintenance under the Inheritance Act, it is important to take legal advice early on. We can provide a free assessment of your claim, and if you decide to proceed, we can handle most such claims under a ‘no win no fee’ arrangement. Get in touch to find out more: call 020 3322 5103 or use our online contact form.