Suc­cess Rate of Con­test­ing a Will in the UK?

Judge's hammer
Catrin, UK Solicitor
16/02/2024 ● 3 minutes
Con­test­ing a Will means chal­len­ging its valid­ity or the way in which it dis­trib­utes the de­ceased person's assets. It's es­sen­tial to note that con­test­ing a Will is gen­er­ally not an easy pro­cess, and suc­cess­ful chal­lenges are re­l­at­ively rare.

A small per­cent­age of Wills in Eng­land and Wales are form­ally con­tested every year, with only a frac­tion of these chal­lenges res­ult­ing in suc­cess.

This sug­gests that while con­test­ing a Will is an option for those who be­lieve they have been treated un­fairly, the chances of over­turn­ing or al­ter­ing the will's pro­vi­sions are re­l­at­ively low.

Suc­cess­fully con­test­ing a Will in the UK is not an easy pro­cess, and the legal system gen­er­ally up­holds the prin­ciple of test­a­ment­ary free­dom, mean­ing that people have the right to decide how their estate is dis­trib­uted.

Ul­ti­mately, the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will in the UK can vary and de­pends on the spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances of each case.

Here are some factors to con­sider, which impact on the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will in UK.

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Grounds for Con­test­ing a Will

To con­test a Will, there must be valid legal grounds. Common grounds to con­test a Will in the UK in­clude things like:

  • Fraud
  • A Lack of Test­a­ment­ary Ca­pa­city
  • Undue In­flu­ence
  • A Failure to Comply with Legal Form­al­it­ies

Suc­cess­fully prov­ing these grounds can be chal­len­ging for the av­er­age person.

Wills in the UK are pre­sumed to be valid unless proven oth­er­wise. Anyone con­test­ing a Will has the burden of prov­ing that the Will is in­valid or that cer­tain pro­vi­sions should be set aside.

Evid­ence for Con­test­ing a Will

Suc­cess­ful chal­lenges of a Will in the UK often hinge on the avail­ab­il­ity and strength of evid­ence sup­porting the reas­ons for con­test­ing the Will. The courts of Eng­land and Wales will con­sider factors such as medical re­cords, wit­ness state­ments, and expert opin­ions.

Factors like clear ca­pa­city of the de­ceased, un­am­bigu­ous Will terms, re­li­able wit­nesses, and com­pet­ent so­li­cit­ors reduce the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will in the UK.

Time limit for Con­test­ing a Will

Acting swiftly is key in con­test­ing a Will in the UK. Ul­ti­mately, the time limit for con­test­ing a Will de­pends on the grounds for the con­test. Some grounds have a limit of 6 months from the grant of pro­bate, but others, like fraud, have no time limit.

However, when it comes to con­test­ing a Will, delay­ing action not only risks miss­ing the legal dead­line but also af­fects the evid­ence and the over­all strength of your case. This can impact the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will.

In cer­tain cir­cum­stances, the court may grant ex­ten­sions but this is not guar­an­teed and depend on the spe­cifics of each case.

What hap­pens if the Will is con­tested?

Draft­ing a leg­ally valid Will is one of the most im­port­ant steps a person can take to reduce the suc­cess rate of someone con­test­ing their Will in the UK.

However, even a prop­erly ex­ecuted a Will can wind up being con­tested by dis­gruntled be­ne­fi­ciar­ies or family mem­bers. So what ex­actly hap­pens when a Will is chal­lenged in the UK ju­di­cial system?

If a Will is chal­lenged and 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.

Exact Will Con­test­a­tion Pro­cess

Con­test­ing a Will in the UK re­quires the fol­low­ing steps to be taken:

  • An in­ter­ested party must apply to the court for a caveat, pre­vent­ing anyone from ob­tain­ing pro­bate without the caveat being re­solved first.
  • The person con­test­ing the Will sub­mits a formal writ to the pro­bate court set­ting out de­tails of their claim and case against the Will’s valid­ity.
  • Ef­forts to resolve the dis­pute through me­di­ation may be un­der­taken, but if un­suc­cess­ful, the case pro­ceeds to trial.
  • A judge will hear ar­gu­ments from the law­yers rep­res­ent­ing both sides at trial before de­cid­ing if the Will con­test has merit. This is where the evid­ence is presen­ted and the strength of it will impact whet­h­er or not the Will is suc­cess­fully con­tested.
  • If le­git­im­ate grounds are es­tab­lished, the court can pro­nounce the Will void and de­term­ine how any assets should sub­sequently be dis­trib­uted if no prior valid Will exists.
  • If the con­test fails, the dis­puted Will re­mains valid and can pro­ceed through pro­bate ad­min­is­tra­tion by the ex­ecut­ors.
  • Set­tle­ments are also common with the chal­lenger re­ceiv­ing a share of assets in return for halt­ing fur­ther con­test.

Court Dis­cre­tion

Courts have full dis­cre­tion in de­term­in­ing the out­come of a Will con­test. Even if grounds are proven, the court may still decide not to alter the dis­tri­bu­tion of assets if it deems it unfair or if there are other con­sid­er­a­tions.

Con­test­ing a Will can be an ex­pens­ive and lengthy pro­cess with the costs gen­er­ally paid by the party con­test­ing the Will. The risk of sig­ni­fic­ant legal ex­penses is a factor that must be con­sidered before pro­ceed­ing.

Some av­er­age cost con­sid­er­a­tions in the UK in­clude:

  • So­li­citor’s fees - A so­li­citor may charge £150-£300+ per hour and fees can easily exceed £10,000 for a com­plex Will dis­pute case that goes to trial. Often the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will in the UK hinges on the qual­ity of a per­sons legal rep­res­ent­a­tion, so this is an im­port­ant factor to con­sider.
  • Bar­rister fees
    • In­struct­ing a bar­rister for rep­res­ent­a­tion at hear­ings could in­volve fees of £5,000-£20,000+.
  • Court fees
    • Ap­ply­ing for the ini­tial caveat and filing court claim forms may cost around £200-£500 in fees.
  • Expert wit­ness fees
    • If pro­fes­sion­al ex­per­ts like doc­tors or hand­writ­ing ana­lys­ts are used, fees of £1,500+ per report/testi­mony are common.
  • Tax ad­visor fees
    • Get­ting tax advice on any set­tle­ment could cost around £2,500-£5,000+.
  • Lost in­her­it­ance
    • If suc­cess­ful, the estate will need to pay the chal­lenger from funds that would have gone to others.
  • Time and stress
    • Con­test­ing a will often takes 1-2 years min­im­um given court back­lo­gs, pro­long­ing emo­tion­al burdens for all parties.
  • Dam­aged re­la­tions
    • Dis­putes over in­her­it­ance fre­quently cause per­man­ent rifts within fam­ilies. This in­tan­gible cost can be im­mense.

Over­all, the total costs for con­test­ing a Will often end up being tens of thou­sands of pounds at min­im­um when factor­ing in legal fees, expert costs, tax ex­penses and the lost value from funds di­ver­ted from right­ful be­ne­fi­ciar­ies to settle claims. In­di­vidual costs vary widely based on the com­plex­ity of each case.

It is always ad­vis­able to try resolv­ing mat­ters am­ic­ably before ini­ti­at­ing formal court pro­ceed­ings over a Will es­pe­cially be­cause the suc­cess rate of con­test­ing a Will in the UK is so low and yet the pro­cess is so ex­pens­ive.

In some cases, me­di­ation is re­com­mended as an al­tern­at­ive to court pro­ceed­ings. Me­di­ation aims to reach a res­ol­u­tion through ne­go­ti­ation rather than a court de­cision and the ma­jor­ity of Will con­tests are settled before reach­ing a court de­cision.

Read more: Im­port­ance of a Will UK

Im­pacts of Con­test­ing a Will

A pro­longed Will con­test can sig­ni­fic­antly dis­rupt and drain an estate through costly legal fees, delays, stress, and com­plic­a­tions for ex­ecut­ors and be­ne­fi­ciar­ies.

Assets may become tied up for years until mat­ters get fully re­solved either in court or through a set­tle­ment agree­ment. This can create major hard­ships if be­ne­fi­ciar­ies were de­pend­ent on in­her­it­ance for living ex­penses or paying off debts.

Re­la­tion­ships within fam­ilies can also suffer per­man­ent damage when some mem­bers be­lieve the Will is unfair while others defend it. Emo­tions tend to run high around Will dis­putes.

The Key Lesson -  Draft a Proper Will!

People writ­ing a Will should take steps to min­im­ise the risk of it being con­tested suc­cess­fully, such as en­sur­ing that the Will is prop­erly drafted, ex­ecuted, and re­flects the test­ator's in­ten­tions.

DIY Wills you can find for free on the in­ternet or cheap Will Kit’s are more af­ford­able than a lawyer but pose sig­ni­fic­ant risks. While it may seem cost-ef­fect­ive, the lack of pro­fes­sion­al draft­ing and guid­ance leaves you vul­ner­able to over­sights, with a heightened risk of legal in­valid­ity and solid grounds for con­test­ing.

Des­pite any ini­tial cost sav­ings, the po­ten­tial errors that could in­val­id­ate a DIY will may far out­weigh the per­ceived be­ne­fits com­pared to draft­ing a pro­fes­sion­al UK Will.

The good news is that Aatos is about to launch its very own UK Last Will, which has been care­fully drafted by our in-house law­yers. We hold your hand through the pro­cess - all you need to do is answer some simple ques­tions and your Will is custom made for you and can even be de­livered to your door for sig­na­ture. It’s ser­i­ously that easy!

Once you have an ef­fect­ive Will in place this can sig­ni­fic­antly reduce the suc­cess rate of someone con­test­ing your Will.

Other ways to Avoid Suc­cess­ful Will Con­tests

Steps you can take to min­im­ise chances of having your Will suc­cess­fully con­tested in the future and avoid the neg­at­ive as­pects of your Will being con­tested are:

  • Se­lect­ing re­li­able ex­ecut­ors with strong in­teg­rity who will defend the Will if chal­lenged.
  • Making reas­on­able fin­an­cial pro­vi­sion for any de­pend­ent family mem­bers to avoid claims under the In­her­it­ance Act.
  • Com­mu­nic­at­ing in­ten­tions clearly to be­ne­fi­ciar­ies to head off mis­un­der­stand­ings.
  • Des­troy­ing old Will ver­sions to avoid con­fu­sion.
  • Using me­di­ation during life to resolve any per­ceived in­con­sist­en­cies or griev­ances over estate plan­ning.

No Will is guar­an­teed to avoid con­tests com­pletely. But prudent plan­ning and pre­ventive steps can help deter chal­lenges and put you in the best po­s­i­tion to defend against con­tests should they arise.

While Will con­tests may be in­ev­it­able in some cases, im­ple­ment­ing pro­tect­ive meas­ures when making your Will and estate plan can go a long way toward pre­serving your wishes.

Suc­cess Rate of a Will in UK Varies

To con­clude, suc­cess­fully con­test­ing a Will in the UK is a com­plex and chal­len­ging pro­cess that de­mands a solid case sup­ported by strong evid­ence and legal ex­pert­ise. It is note­worthy that a sig­ni­fic­ant ma­jor­ity of Wills in the UK go un­con­tested, high­light­ing the dif­fi­culty in suc­cess­fully chal­len­ging test­a­ment­ary de­cisions.

The suc­cess rates of con­test­ing a Will in the UK vary and are con­tin­gent upon factors such as the strength of the presen­ted case, the ef­fect­ive­ness of legal ar­gu­ments, and the de­tails sur­round­ing the con­tested Will. Given the po­ten­tial stress, cost, and burden as­so­ci­ated with Will con­tests, it is wise to pree­mpt­ively ad­dress these con­cerns by cre­at­ing a strong and leg­ally valid Will.

Pro­fes­sion­ally drafted Wills are es­sen­tial to ensure their legal valid­ity and min­im­ise the like­li­hood of suc­cess­ful chal­lenges. This is where Aatos comes in - our af­ford­able Will pro­ducts are lawyer drafted and adhere to UK legal stand­ards and guidelines.

So why not ex­plore our range of pro­ducts today to secure the clar­ity and le­git­im­acy of your test­a­ment­ary wishes!

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