By Alison Parry, Partner in Will Disputes at JMW Solicitors
Contemplating our own mortality is rarely an enjoyable topic, but it is a vital one to address in order to protect our loved ones and ensure that our wishes are respected after we pass away. One of the most crucial elements of planning for the future is sorting out a will. A staggering number of people, however, are unaware of the intricacies involved in wills and the potential disputes that may arise. According to our recent survey, many Britons are ill-informed when it comes to contesting wills, the grounds which may allow you to contest, and the time limits involved.
Our recent survey found that 20% of respondents do not understand what it means to contest a will. In simple terms, contesting a will means challenging the validity of the document in a court of law, usually due to concerns about the testator’s mental capacity, undue influence, or fraud. Sorting out your will properly before you die is essential to minimise the chances of your family facing a protracted legal dispute over your estate.
The survey also revealed that 50% of respondents do not understand the grounds upon which a will can be contested. There are several legal reasons for contesting a will, including:
- Lack of testamentary capacity: the testator must be of sound mind when creating the will, understanding the implications of the document and the extent of their assets as well as who they ought to be considering when leaving their assets.
- Undue influence: if a person has exerted excessive pressure on the testator to influence the distribution of assets, the will may be contested.
- Fraud or forgery: if there is evidence of fraudulent activity, such as a forged signature, the will may be challenged.
- Lack of valid execution: the will must adhere to specific legal requirements, such as being signed by the testator and witnessed by two individuals.
57% of those surveyed do not know the time limit for contesting a will. This lack of knowledge regarding the time limits for contesting a will is a significant concern, as it may result in potential claimants missing their opportunity to challenge a will and ultimately being unable to rectify any perceived injustices or inaccuracies within the distribution of an estate. It is essential that individuals understand the importance of acting promptly when considering making a challenge in someone’s estate to ensure that their rights and interests are protected.
While there is no strict time limit for contesting a will in England and Wales, it is crucial to act as quickly as possible to minimise the risk of being barred from making a claim. Delays can also complicate matters, as evidence may be lost or become less reliable over time, making it more difficult to contest a will successfully. Furthermore, if a significant portion of the estate has already been distributed, it may be more challenging to recover assets or reverse decisions that have been made in reliance on the validity of the will.
In some cases, there are specific time limits associated with contesting a will, such as those arising from the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act. This act allows certain individuals, such as spouses, former spouses, cohabitants, children, and dependants, to make a claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate if they believe the will does not adequately provide for their needs. The six-month time limit (which can only be extended in exceptional circumstances) from the grant of probate or administration underscores the importance of seeking legal advice promptly in these circumstances.
Given the potential consequences of missing these time limits, it is essential for individuals to be proactive in seeking legal advice if they believe they may have grounds to contest a will. Solicitors specialising in will disputes can provide guidance on the various time limits and their implications, helping individuals understand the urgency of their situation and the importance of taking timely action.
In order to raise public awareness about the time limits for contesting a will, it may be beneficial to engage in educational campaigns that emphasise the importance of acting quickly and seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity. By doing so, more people may become aware of their rights and the need to take prompt action, ultimately reducing the risk of potential claimants missing their chance to challenge a will and ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are accurately carried out.
The statistics from our survey highlight a concerning lack of knowledge among the British public regarding wills, contesting a will, and intestacy. Sorting out your will before you die is not only a responsible and prudent course of action but a loving gesture towards your family, ensuring that they are less likely to bet left with legal disputes, uncertainty, and potential financial hardship.
To avoid these problems, it is essential to consult a solicitor who specialises in wills and probate. They can help you create a legally valid will that reflects your wishes and ensures that your family is cared for after your death. By doing so, you can provide your loved ones with peace of mind and security, allowing them to grieve and heal without the burden of legal battles and financial disputes.
Moreover, our survey highlights a pressing need for increased education and awareness about the importance of wills and the legal implications surrounding them. It is vital that we, as a society, understand the significance of these legal documents and the role they play in protecting our families and ensuring our wishes are respected after our death.
One way to improve public knowledge about wills is through information campaigns led by legal professionals, educational institutions, and relevant government agencies. These campaigns can help to demystify the process of creating a will, shed light on the legal requirements involved, and provide guidance on when and how to seek professional advice.
Another aspect of proper estate planning that many people overlook is the importance of regularly updating their wills to reflect significant changes in their lives. Major life events, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the acquisition of substantial assets, can significantly impact how your estate should be distributed. For example, many people do not realise that a marriage will invalidate your will and so you must make a new one to avoid dying intestate..Failing to update your will accordingly can lead to confusion, disputes, and unintended consequences for your loved ones. Solicitors can provide valuable advice and assistance in keeping your will up-to-date and ensuring it remains legally valid and relevant to your current circumstances.
In addition to providing guidance on drafting and updating wills, solicitors can also offer support and counsel to those who believe they may have grounds for contesting a will. They can help you understand the legal implications, time limits, and potential consequences of challenging a will, as well as guide you through the often complex and emotionally taxing process of making such a challenge.
Furthermore, it is crucial to be aware of the rules surrounding intestacy, which apply when an individual dies without leaving a valid will. Under intestacy laws, the distribution of the deceased’s estate is determined by a specific set of rules that may not align with their personal wishes or the needs of their family. This can lead to further complications and disputes, reinforcing the importance of having a legally valid will in place. Solicitors can provide guidance on the intestacy rules and help you understand how they may apply to your specific circumstances.
Our survey results underscore the urgent need for greater awareness and understanding of the intricacies involved in wills and the potential disputes that may arise. By educating ourselves about the legal requirements and processes surrounding wills, we can take important steps towards safeguarding our families’ futures and ensuring our wishes are honoured after our death.
To ensure that your will is properly executed, up-to-date, and in line with your wishes, it is essential to consult a solicitor specialising in wills and probate. By seeking professional advice and assistance, you can gain peace of mind knowing that your family will be better protected from unnecessary legal disputes and financial hardships after your passing.
In the end, taking the time to create a legally valid will is not only a responsible and prudent course of action but also a loving gesture that demonstrates your care and concern for the well-being of your loved ones. By addressing these matters before it is too late, you can help prevent potential disputes and provide your family with the security and support they need to move forward during a difficult time.