What is the timeline for contesting a will?

In Wills and Probate

There are time limits to contesting a will, and these will depend on your reason for contesting. Whilst you may feel that a will is unfair, it is important to consider the ‘grounds’ for contesting, as it will have to fit within a certain sector to justify your decision.

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What are the grounds for contesting?

There may be a very clear reason to contest, but in some cases, there are multiple grounds for contesting. In which case, it’s important to choose the one that your solicitor believes to be the strongest option for you, but this may mean a tight deadline.

Examples of grounds for contesting:

  • Forgery/fraud
  • The deceased was not of sound mind
  • Lack of execution (the will was not legally valid due to witnesses or signatures)
  • The deceased did not know certain things were in the will
  • The deceased was unduly influenced in writing their will
  • Rectification (the deceased’s intentions were not carried out due to a clerical error)
  • Construction (the words in the will are unclear and need to be defined)
  • Reasonable financial provision (the deceased has not provided for dependents who would suffer otherwise)

Is there a time limit for contesting a will?

When dealing with inheritance issues, it is better to contest a will as soon as possible, ideally, before a grant of probate. This is because it can become quite complicated if funds have already been released to inheritors. Some grounds have a limit of 6 months from the grant of probate, but others, like fraud, have no time limit.

However, it is always better to discuss the issue with a solicitor as soon as possible, as they can make it clear to the executor that there may be issues with the claims, and may even be able to stay the grant of probate until the grounds for contesting can be explored.

It is possible to still contest a will after probate has been granted, but it is likely to be more difficult. Always get in touch with a solicitor as soon as possible.

How long does it take to contest?

This can depend on both the type of claim and how it is dealt with. For example, if there is a clear error in the will, that will be quicker to deal with than providing a reasonable financial provision, or fraud. The complexity of the case will affect how long it takes.

Many cases are settled as claims, before ever going to trial. This will make the process quicker, as you could be waiting around a year to go to court.
Each individual case will have a different timeline, depending on how much paperwork you need to get hold of, and how complex the claim is.

What will I need to do?

After discussing which grounds make the most sense with your solicitor, you may then need to get hold of certain paperwork, dependent on the grounds. For example, if you claim that the deceased was not of sound mind when writing the will, having access to medical records or any supporting evidence will be helpful to your solicitor.

You will need to get a copy of the will from the executor, and your solicitor can suggest a caveat to avoid probate being granted until the matter is settled. If the executor refuses to grant you a copy of the will, your solicitor can help.

Always try to be as prompt as possible in talking to a legal professional, so you know whether you have a claim.

If you're in Scotland the conditions for contesting a will are slightly different, so it's worth double checking what rules and procedures you will have to follow. 

What happens if the will is contested?

Bear in mind that if a will is found to be invalid, the estate will be processed according to a previous will. If there was no previous will, it falls to the Law of Intestacy, in which the estate up to £250,000 is left to the surviving spouse, and whatever remains is split in half, between the spouse and any children.

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