Specified relatives, dependants and other people can challenge someone’s will, going to court and claiming ‘reasonable financial provision’ from the estate after his or her death. Equally, if there is no will (the individual dies ‘intestate’), and they are not happy with what they are awarded under the intestacy rules that govern how estates are divided up in these circumstances, they may also be able to make a claim
The categories of people who can make a claim are:
If the court decides to make reasonable financial provision, it can order:
Spouses or civil partners do not have to be in financial need or financially dependent on the deceased to make a claim. The court will take into account:
However, there are special rules if there has been a judicial separation or separation order, and if there has been an application to the court for financial relief in, eg divorce proceedings between them.
For former spouses and civil partners, the court can take account of age, children and contribution to the family. The circumstances of the divorce or dissolution may also be relevant, eg how long ago they split up, if they agreed a clean break settlement, and any evidence that they may have misrepresented their assets or income.
Other applicants will only get financial provision if they are in need or were financially dependent on the deceased. There are statutory guidelines that the court takes into account. These include:
For example, an adult son cannot simply claim that, as a child, he expected to inherit. He would have to show that he was in financial need, and special circumstances, eg that the deceased made promises to him or behaved towards him in a way that implied he felt some additional obligation towards him. Even then, it is clear that the smaller the estate relative to the competing claims, the less likely that his claim will succeed. And if, for example, the deceased has explained in the will, or in a separate note, why nothing was left to the applicant, this can be taken into account – although the court is not bound to follow the deceased's wishes.
When a person dies, the people named in the will to deal with the estate (the ‘executors’) or, if there was no will, the people that the law says are entitled to deal with the estate (the ‘administrators’) must apply to the court for an official document that proves they are the executors or administrators. These are called a ‘grant of probate’ and ‘letters of administration’ respectively.
A claim for reasonable financial provision must be made within six months after probate or letters of administration have been issued, although the court can extend this period in certain circumstances, eg if the applicant has not made an earlier claim because of negotiations with the executors or administrators.
Other ways to challenge a will include:
For more information, see:
Note: This guidance applies to England and Wales only. Different rules and procedures apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.