Contesting a Will

Information about intestacy and the legally valid reasons for contesting will

Last updated: 12 July 2017

In most cases, the estate is shared out according to the will without complaint or incident. However, in some cases you may decide to contest the will.

There are several reasons why you may be considering contesting a will, but be warned that not receiving what you expected is not enough of a reason to contest a will.

Valid reasons for contesting a will are:

  • If the will is invalid (see below)
  • If a close family member is named as a beneficiary but are not entitled to receive anything
  • If a married partner or someone who is financially dependent on your loved one has not been left adequate financial provisions
  • If the executors are managing the estate inappropriately

If the will is invalid

When contesting a will, the will can be deemed invalid after your loved one passes away for a number of reasons. For example:

  • If your loved one didn’t fully understand what they were doing
  • If your loved one wasn’t aware of the value of some assets or the effects of their decisions
  • If there are issues with signatures on the document
  • If your loved one was pressured into making decisions
  • If the will is fraudulent or forged
  • If the instructions in the will are unclear

When a will is shown to be invalid, the estate is divided as if the will didn’t exist. This is otherwise known as rules of intestacy. These rules lay out the order in which family members are entitled to inherit the estate. This order is as follows:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Children/grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts

Disputed beneficiaries

There are some circumstances where the beneficiaries named in the will are discounted. This happens for a number of reasons, including:

  • If a beneficiary is also a witness in the will
  • If your loved one was married to someone at the time of writing the will but has subsequently divorced them (a separated partner that is still married to your loved one is still considered a beneficiary)
  • If a beneficiary passes away before your loved one
  • If a beneficiary was promised something in the will that is no longer a part of the estate

Poor management by executors

You may feel that an executor or administrator is not acting in their role appropriately. Behaviour that could be deemed as improper management includes:

  • Failing to keep accurate accounting records
  • Not obeying a court order
  • Not managing the estate to the instructions set out in the will

Before taking legal advice, talk to the executor or administrator about your concerns. Consider that sorting out the assets and debts, and getting probate can be a very slow process. You should not expect to be given your share of the inheritance immediately after the funeral. Debts, funeral expenses and inheritance tax need to be calculated and paid off before the estate can be divided.

If, after considering these issues, you still feel that the estate is not being managed correctly, talking to your solicitor may be the next step.

Taking action

If you are thinking about contesting a will, you may want to talk about your concerns with the executors. It might be that you can resolve any issues between yourselves, without the need for a solicitor.

If your concerns are not answered, you should seek legal advice about contesting the will. You can take immediate action to prevent any assets from being distributed by stopping the grant of representation. This can stop probate from being granted to the executors.