Reasons that you might think about making a claim include:
- You might feel that the Deceased should have left you some inheritance.
- You might question whether the Deceased understood what they were doing when they made their Will.
- You might suspect that someone unfairly influenced the Deceased when they made their Will.
- Perhaps the Deceased did not make a Will and you are unhappy that you will not inherit under the rules of intestacy.
Have you got an inheritance claim?
There are various grounds on which to make an inheritance claim. These include:
- There are reasons why the Deceased should have made reasonable financial provision for you.
- There was something technically wrong with the Will (for example, the legal formalities were not followed when it was made).
- The Deceased told you they would leave you something on their deathbed.
- The Deceased owed you money.
- The Deceased promised you a gift and you relied on this promise to your detriment.
These are just a few of the grounds on which you can make an inheritance claim.
How to start an inheritance claim
Step 1: Contact a specialist solicitor
The first step in making an inheritance claim is to contact a specialist lawyer who deals with ‘contentious probate’ work. This must be done as soon as possible, because there are strict time limits for making an inheritance claim. For example, if you are claiming that the Deceased should have made reasonable financial provision for you in their Will (or they did not make a Will and you do not stand to inherit anything under the rules of intestacy), the time limit to claim is just 6 months from the grant of probate or letters of administration (the documents that the Executors or Personal Representatives of the Deceased need to be able to distribute the Deceased’s estate).
Step 2: Obtain a copy of the Will
If the Deceased made a Will, you will need to obtain a copy. You can ask the Executors, although you may find they are unwilling to give you this (there is no legal right to a copy). If this is the case, your solicitor will write to the Executors and explain that if they do not provide a copy of the Will and the matter goes to Court, the judge will take their behavior into consideration when assessing who should pay the legal costs. Providing a copy of the Will can help the matter be dealt with quickly and with fewer legal costs.
Step 3: Issue a caveat
It may be necessary for your solicitor to issue a caveat. This stops the Probate Registry from granting probate/letters of administration, so prevents the Deceased’s assets from being distributed temporarily. The caveat lasts for six months and allows your solicitor time to fully investigate your claim. If necessary, it can be extended by six further months. If the Executors are unhappy with the caveat, they can serve a warning on the Caveator (the person who entered the caveat) which would require them to explain the grounds on which the caveat was issued. Your solicitor will take care of this – after which, the caveat will remain in force until the dispute regarding the Deceased’s estate has been resolved.
Note that for some types of dispute, you can still make a claim even if the Deceased’s assets have been distributed. You can find out more about time limits here.
Step 4: Negotiation
The majority of inheritance claims do not go to court – instead they are resolved through negotiation. The reason for this is that if the claim does go to court, the legal costs can be quite high. The Executors or Personal Administrators will be aware that if you win your case, they/the Deceased’s estate may have to pay your legal bill and this could amount to more than your actual claim. It is therefore often preferable to settle without going to court.
Step 5: Court action
If negotiation fails, the next step may be an application to the Probate Registry for a directions hearing. If the dispute cannot be agreed, formal court proceedings may begin. As noted, this can be where the legal costs rise significantly. There are various ways to fund your case – you can find out more here.