There are many different grounds on which you can contest a Will in England/Wales/the UK, with different time limits for each. We would therefore strongly advise that you do not delay at all in obtaining legal advice, particularly for ‘reasonable financial provision‘ cases.
Even if the claim is based on some technical ground where the time limits are more generous, it is easier to contest the Will before probate or letters of administration are issued. Your lawyer will be able to enter a caveat to prevent probate/letters of administration from being issued. This gives us time to investigate potential claims.
If probate has already been issued, you can still make a claim but it can be more difficult, especially if the Executors have already started to distribute the estate.
Obtaining a copy of the Will
Once you have established that you have grounds to contest a Will, the next step is to get a copy of the Will. You should do this by approaching the Executors. A more experienced Executor may be willing to provide this as it can help with resolving disputes more quickly and with minimal cost. However, a less experienced Executor may refuse to provide a copy of the Will, even if you were a close family member of the Deceased. They will not necessarily appreciate the consequences of not providing a copy, or may think it is their duty to keep the Will confidential.
In fact, there is no legal right to a copy of the Will – but if the Executors refuse to provide a copy, this can make any dispute lengthier and more expensive in terms of legal fees. Consequently, if an Executor refuses to provide a copy and the matter then goes to Court, the Court has the discretion to make an order that the other side or the Deceased’s estate pay the legal costs – even if you lose your claim. To be convinced of this, the Executors may need to receive a carefully worded letter from your lawyer.
If the Executors still refuse to give you a copy of the Will, your lawyer can issue a caveat preventing a grant of probate from being issued. This gives you six months to investigate the dispute (which can be extended). If probate has already been granted, you will be able to get a copy of the Will
Should the Executor still refuse to provide a copy of the Will, it is possible to issue a caveat against the estate which prevents a grant of probate from being issued until the dispute has been dealt with. If Probate has already been issued, you may be able to get a copy of the grant and Will online. You can also make a standing search if the death was in the last 6 months, so if a grant is issued in the following 6 months, you will be sent a copy. We strongly suggest that you contact us to discuss this first because of the strict time limits involved.
What happens next?
Your lawyer will investigate whether you have grounds to make a claim against the Deceased’s estate. In England/Wales/the UK, there are a number of grounds on which a claim can be made.
Most cases in England and Wales are resolved without the need to go to court, through negotiation. However, it is possible that an application to the Probate Registry for a directions hearing may be necessary. If the dispute cannot be agreed, formal court proceedings may begin.