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Reasons to use a will dispute expert

The importance of choosing an expert in probate and litigation work when you’re thinking of disputing a will.

You may be considering bringing a challenge to a will – and if you are, it’s important to use a will disputes expert, a point that was recently highlighted in the case of Lyons & Anor v Kerr-Robinson

The Facts

Cynthia Lyons died intestate leaving property in Jamaica and England. She had no family. There were competing parties for the grant of Letters of Administration, but despite Caveats being issued, the Letters of Administration were granted to the defendant, Andrene Kerr-Robinson. Kerr-Robinson then engaged a firm of licensed conveyancers to defend herself against claims from the other potential beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate. This firm had no probate experience, and no experience in litigation. Kerr-Robinson went on to transfer over £85,000 from the estate to the firm, which was later moved by the firm into the office account and was used to pay the firm’s bills.

Finding that the defendant should repay the money, the judge found that

  • Kerr-Robinson had not behaved properly in engaging a firm that was not authorised to conduct litigation on behalf of the estate.
  • She also did not act reasonably because she agreed to a retainer without placing a cap on fees and charges
  • She took no steps to keep an eye on what was happening to the money.

Choosing the wrong solicitor can cause big problems

In this case, the decision to use a firm of licensed conveyancers more used to dealing with property sales than with disputes arising out of inheritance and intestacy put the Adminstrator, Andrene Kerr-Robinson, in an extremely difficult position. Not only did she transfer money resulting in the monies being used for the wrong purpose, she failed to keep an eye on what was happening to the monies. If she had chosen a firm of solicitors whose expertise was litigation and will disputes law, it is far less likely that she would have been held responsible in this way.

In other will dispute claims, for example if you are seeking to overturn a will on the grounds that it is invalid for some reason, there is even more reason to use an expert. This is a complex area of law and it can be difficult to prove that something untoward has gone on – such as the preparation of an invalid will. Unless you use an expert, you may receive poor advice as to the strength of your claim, the evidence you might need to prove your claim, or you may receive incomplete advice about whether to settle a claim or pursue litigation to court.

A question of experience & expertise

It’s not as unusual a situation as you might imagine– you have a legal problem, so you approach a solicitor. But it’s important to make sure you use the right solicitor, one who is experienced in the area of law that covers the issue you want to resolve.

If you suffer from arthritis, you would not consult a brain surgeon. Although the brain surgeon will have had the same initial medical training as a rheumatologist, it’s only by seeing the rheumatologist that you will access the most up to date treatments and therapies and receive the best treatment for your condition.

The same is true of solicitors. Although we have broadly the same initial training, during which we may experience different areas of legal practice, we usually specialise in one area of the law once we have become qualified. At this stage, we will concentrate on broadening our knowledge and building our experience in this one area. And while we may not forget what we learned in law school and during training, our knowledge of other areas of law will never be as up to date as our knowledge of our specialist area.

The intricacies of will dispute law

Property law, employment law, personal injury, will disputes – each area of law has its own rules and procedures, its own set of ‘case law’. Although there may be some similarities, for example in the processes that must be followed when bringing a claim to court, you will find that unless you choose a solicitor who specialises in the area you need, you risk an unfavourable outcome, however strong your case may be.

The law which relates to will disputes and associated matters such as trusts and the duties of executors is a complex and changing area. As in other areas, the law relating to will disputes is made up of a combination of legislation (Acts of Parliament) and case law. Some of the legislation is quite old – for example, the Wills Act 1837 which sets out the requirements for a valid will. Case law is essentially the current state of play as the courts interpret legislation and legal rules, putting ‘flesh on the bones’ of the Acts of Parliament.

Using an expert will help you navigate the complexities of the law and reach the best outcome.