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A question mark over the steps you should take if you're concerned about a will

Concerned about a will? 4 steps to take

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You may feel helpless in the face of a will that has either disinherited you, or leaves you will very little. All this at a time when you are grieving for a relative or close friend and would have expected to be included in the will. The reality is that there are some steps you can take if you are concerned about a will, including registering a caveat and gathering evidence. Here are the 4 key steps to take if you are concerned about a will.

Register a Caveat

Once the estate of your relative has been distributed according to the terms of the will, it may be more difficult to recover assets or property that should have come to you. If you have concerns about a will, you can enter a caveat with the Probate Registry which means that probate can’t be granted. Once probate is granted, the executor can distribute the estate according to the will. A caveat prevents this for 6 months, and so the assets can’t be distributed. This gives you the opportunity to consider your claim in more detail, and take legal advice.
You can enter a caveat yourself – it’s a straightforward procedure that requires completing a form PA8, and costs £20. You can find out more on www.gov.uk

List the basis for your concerns

There are basically two types of claim you can bring if you are concerned about a will. You can challenge the validity of the will itself – perhaps it hasn’t been properly executed, perhaps you think someone persuaded your relative to leave you out of the will, or perhaps you think it is a fake. Alternatively, you can potentially bring a claim under the Inheritance (provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. A claim under the Inheritance Act does not challenge the validity of the will itself, but asks the court to redistribute the assets so that you receive a suitable amount. You will need to take expert advice about the strength of your claims.

Gather together any evidence you have

Finding evidence of behaviour or activity that supports your concerns can often be difficult when bringing a will dispute. If you do have anything that might be relevant – notes or letters from the deceased or other people you believe to be involved, medical records or correspondence from support services, information from friends or other relatives – these could all be important.

Act quickly

If you are bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, you have 6 months to do so from the Grant of Probate. You can also challenge distribution of an estate under the intestacy rules if you are not recognised under these. If you were living with someone, for example, but were not married or in a civil partnership, you would not be recognised under the intestacy rules, so you might bring a claim under the Inheritance Act. If you are challenging the validity of a will, there is no fixed time limit for doing so. However, if you delay in bringing a claim, you may find it more difficult to find strong evidence to support your claim. In addition, if the assets have been distributed already, you may find it difficult to recover your inheritance, even if your claim is successful.

Taking legal action to contest a will is a big step to take, but may be the only way to achieve fairness. Talking to an expert in contentious probate cases is vital. These cases can be tricky to fight, not to mention costly and lengthy, so you need to take advice. We represent many people on a ‘no win no fee’ agreement – get in touch for a free claim assessment.

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sometimes you get the feeling that someone is acting suspiciously in relation to a will

Spotting suspicious behaviour surrounding a will

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We’ve been handling will disputes for many years, and have found that there are a number of common themes which raise suspicions that all is not as it should be with the will concerned.

Challenging a will is a big decision to take, especially in the sad circumstances where a loved one has died. You may also be unsure if you are right to be taking this step – you may ‘feel’ that things are not right in relation to the will of your loved one, but be struggling to pinpoint why this is the case. Suspicious behaviour before, as well as after, the death can often be identified and should be a cause for concern, even though no action can be taken to dispute a will until after the Testator has died.

We’ve brought together a list of the matters that our clients commonly raise when they speak to us, which usually indicate that the circumstances surrounding the making of the will are suspicious and warrant further investigation relating to the validity of the will.

Before death

Unlikely friendships Of course, everyone is free to build relationships with anyone they choose, but in some cases, a relationship develops which is out of character for your loved one. It is not uncommon in this context for your loved one to start to display behaviour towards you which is less affectionate, or even overtly suspicious or hostile.

A drop in communication If your loved one has become confused as the result of illness such as dementia, or simply been manipulated by someone else into making a will which excludes close family, the person responsible (perhaps a new carer or partner) may make deliberate attempts to take over all communications on behalf of your loved one, and limit your access to him or her. You may not be aware that this is what is going on in the background, but if you notice a change in how your loved one communicates with you – or in how often you are invited or allowed to visit, there may well be something untoward going on.

Reliance on a particular person If your loved one is already vulnerable, perhaps suffering from memory problems or other mental health problems, or a long term physical condition, they are more open to being manipulated. We have come across situations where people have taken advantage of this by allowing the loved one things that they have been advised not to have – or do (such as drinking alcohol or driving). Equally, where someone is vulnerable in these circumstances, an unscrupulous individual will exploit this by planting unfounded suspicions about family members who would otherwise be included in the will into the mind of the will writer. Again, it is hard to know that this is happening, but if your loved one is increasingly favouring one person over everyone else, and their behaviour towards others changes and becomes more hostile, this may well be what is going on.

Change in professional advisors If your loved one suddenly changes solicitor or GP in the run up to writing a new will, this can indicate that something untoward is going on. If someone is seeking to manipulate your loved one into writing a will in particular way, they will want to avoid the involvement of professionals that may challenge what is going on.

After Death

Lack of communication Sadly, if there has been manipulation, undue influence, involved in your loved one’s will, you may well not find out straight away that they have died. When someone has become close to a testator with a view to influencing their will, they will want to prevent the family (or the rest of the family, if a family member is involved) knowing that the individual has died.

Hi-jacked funeral Just as distressing as being late to find out that your loved one has died, we have noticed that when a testator has made a will in suspicious circumstances, the person or people responsible for manipulating the testator may also try to take over the funeral, dismissing the views and feelings of the family, and focussing on the importance of ‘friends’.

Concealing the will If a new will has been made that disinherits family in suspicious circumstances, those responsible (whether an individual or small group of people) may often conceal the existence of the will, and accuse genuine enquirers of only being interested in the money. Alternatively, they may deny all knowledge of the will, even when it becomes clear that they have played a role in the creation of the new will. You may also find that a solicitor refuses to disclose a will on the grounds that it is “confidential to the deceased” – spurious because once probate is granted, a will becomes a public document! More likely is that this is a ruse to prevent close relatives from realising what has happened, and entering a caveat to prevent the grant of probate.

Swift action to apply for probate While it is normal to apply for probate relatively quickly after someone has died, in some cases, we find that the application for the grant of probate has been pre-prepared in advance of the death, which means that probate can be applied for immediately in an attempt to prevent the will being challenged.

You may feel uncomfortable raising concerns about the circumstances in which a will has been made – for fear of being accused of ‘only being interested in the money’. However, it’s also the case that if your loved one has been manipulated by someone into making a will that doesn’t reflect their true wishes, that person will say this sort of thing to try and stop you making further investigations.

If you have concerns about a will that you would like to discuss, why not talk to us? We offer a free claim assessment , and can handle most cases on a no win no fee basis, if you decide to take things further.

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adult hand against a white background indicating that entering a caveat will stop the probate process

Entering a Caveat to raise your concerns

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In the emotionally charged period following the death of a loved one, you may become aware of circumstances that make you concerned about the contents of their will – but what can you do? In our blog we look at some of the practical steps you can take, including entering a caveat on the Probate Registry.

Moving quickly is vital

You may have concerns about the way a will was drawn up – perhaps you think the person who made the will – the Testator – was bullied into leaving his or property in a particular way, or did not know what he was doing when he made the will. Perhaps you have been included in the will, but feel that you have not been left a reasonable amount. Whatever your reasons for challenging the will – be it that you wish to challenge the validity of the will itself, or simply challenge the way the Testator’s assets will be distributed, it’s vital to move quickly.

Time limits – and the question of evidence

If you want to challenge the amount of money or property you have been left, by bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act, there are certain time limits you must stick to, otherwise you will have left it too late to bring a claim before the courts.

If you are challenging the validity of the will itself – for example because you think the Testator did not know what he or she was doing, or properly understand the contents of the will – or because he was made to make his will in a particular way – there is no specific time limit to bring the claim before the courts. However, you need to bear in mind that the longer you leave it before taking action, the harder it will be to gather strong evidence to support your claim. In these types of cases, evidence from people who knew the Testator will often be vital – and as time goes on, memories fade, and the people you need may themselves pass away. This means you will be left without the evidence you need to prove your case.

Entering a Caveat

If you are intending to challenge the validity of a will, one step that is very important to take before you do anything else is to enter a Caveat with the Probate registry. This is the official way to flag up your concerns about the will. Once you have entered a Caveat, a Grant of Probate cannot be made. This means you can bring your claim to challenge the will before the Testator’s estate has been distributed.

Some points to bear in mind about entering a caveat

  • You can enter a caveat without a solicitor
  • The process to enter a caveat simply requires you to contact your local Probate Registry with the full details of the Testator – full names and details of his death. It currently costs £20 to enter a caveat, and you must make an application using form PA8A. More details can be found on the Government website
  • A caveat lasts for 6 months – you may need to renew the caveat if you have not resolved your claim by then
  • You can withdraw a caveat at any time
  • Someone else who wants probate to go ahead can issue a ‘warning’ to remove the caveat. If this happens you will be notified and you will have 8 days to respond.
  • If you are planning a claim under the Inheritance Act, you shouldn’t enter a caveat – rather enter a ‘standing search’ so that you will be notified once Probate has been granted and the 6 month period for bringing your claim starts to run.

Even if you have entered a caveat without legal advice, it’s vital that you gather together any evidence you have that the will in question is invalid. You should seek specialist legal advice about the strength of your claim and any additional evidence that you will need to try and obtain to strengthen your chances of success. We offer a free claim assessment for people considering bringing a challenge to a will – why not get in touch?

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