How to defend an inheritance dispute

Table of Contents

How to defend an inheritance dispute

If you are an executor or beneficiary facing a challenge to a Will, we can offer you advice. Our lawyers have experience defending contested Wills and have the expertise to resolve your dispute as quickly and fairly as possible.


The number of Wills disputed or contested is on the increase. This article will help you understand how to defend or contest a Will.

We can help you if someone is trying to:


  • Contest the validity of a Will
  • Challenge how the estate has been divided up if the deceased did not leave a Will
  • Remove you as the executor of the estate.
  • Claim Proprietary Estoppel (if they have been promised something they did not receive, which has severely disadvantaged them).


Challenges to a Will can be disruptive and upsetting. They delay the estate’s process and can reduce what you’re entitled to if you are a beneficiary. As well as being emotionally distressing, this can have serious financial consequences.


We can help you protect your legal position and resolve disputes quickly and effectively. We have solicitors with the experience and expertise to support you, whether you are a beneficiary or executor.

What are the grounds for contesting a will?

Anna Sutcliffe, the solicitor at Wright Hassall LLP, outlines the grounds for contesting a will.


Losing a loved one is never easy, and if you suspect their will may not reflect their true wishes, it can make an emotional time especially difficult.


There are several ways that the validity of a will can be challenged. But it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s imperative to consider whether a successful claim would produce a better result than the existing will.


For example, the intestacy rules will apply if there is no earlier will. But if there is an earlier, unchallenged will, the terms of that document will take effect.


Here are the requirements of a valid will and a summary of the main ways a will may be challenged.

Requirements of a valid will

Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 confirms that for an order to be valid, a will must be:


in writing

signed by the testator (or someone else in the testator’s presence and at his direction)

the testator must intend when signing the will for it to be valid


Also, the testator’s signature must be acknowledged in the presence of at least 2 witnesses.


If there is a concern about whether a will is valid, the first thing to consider is whether it has been properly executed. This may involve contacting the witnesses to the will to obtain further details about the circumstances of its execution.


If the will has been properly executed, the presumption is that it is valid unless one of the concerns set out below arises.

The deceased did not properly understand and approve the content of the will

If the court’s suspicion is aroused, it is for those seeking to propound the will to prove that the deceased fully understood how it operated and approved its contents.


Examples of suspicious circumstances could be where the deceased:


was hard of hearing, or had a speech impediment

was visually impaired

had low levels of literacy

was frail, unwell or otherwise vulnerable, and the will is particularly complex or unusual

is purported to have directed that the will be signed by someone else

In some cases, there may be suspicions of fraud or undue influence. In others, there may be a feeling that the terms of a will are simply unfair given the relationship that you and the deceased person enjoyed. This latter category of case is what Jim McGarrity focuses on in this article.

Can I challenge a will that fails to make reasonable provisions for me?

It tends to be only in Hollywood movies that a will is read aloud, usually for the dramatic effect where the contents of the will are unexpected and lead to the sort of tensions which create a good plot. For example, in the 2019 film ‘Knives Out’ the patriarch cuts his entire family out of his will in favour of his caregiver.


While such dramatic events are unusual in real life, it is becoming increasingly common for disputes over wills to arise, particularly where someone who expected to inherit has been excluded or where the provision made for them is less than they had hoped to receive.


‘If there were family tensions, then the contents of the will may not come as a total surprise, says Jim McGarrity, wills and probate litigation lawyer. ‘But it can still come as a blow to those affected, and this may lead to questions about whether there is any way in which the will can be challenged and its provisions varied.’


In some cases, there may be suspicions of fraud or undue influence. In others, there may be a feeling that the terms of a will are simply unfair given the relationship that you and the deceased person enjoyed. This latter category of case is what Jim McGarrity focuses on in this article.


Where you are the spouse, civil partner or child of the person who has died, or someone who cohabited with them or received financial support, it may be possible for you to challenge their will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.


For this to be possible, you must show that the terms of the will fail to make reasonable financial provisions for you and that, in the circumstances that exist, it is right for your loved one’s will to be interfered with to rectify this.


Your solicitor will be able to advise you on whether a claim may be possible and, where it is, provide support to enable you to secure the inheritance that you deserve. Ideally, this will be through negotiation with the executors but, failing that, via the instigation of legal proceedings to obtain an appropriate court order.

Is there a time limit?

To be eligible to make a claim, you will usually need to ensure that your case is started within six months of permission being given for the deceased person’s affairs to be wound up and for their money, property and possessions to be distributed, so within six months of probate being granted.

Defending an Inheritance Act 1975 claim could now become troublesome for Defendants

Following Hirachand v Hirachand (2020), bringing an estate dispute claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, 1975 may be easier for Claimants but will no doubt carry more risk and prove more costly for Defendants.

Defending a claim against an estate or a will dispute- Birkett Long Solicitors

If you are a beneficiary of an estate and someone else is challenging the will or making a claim against the estate, you should seek legal advice on your position if you wish to defend the claim. This is because if their claim is successful, it may impact the inheritance you receive. Also, if you defend the claim but lose, you may be ordered to pay the winner’s costs.


Therefore, you must receive specialist advice to understand the claim’s strengths and weaknesses.

Firstly, the type of claim you will be defending must be established. The three main claims are as follows:


A claim against the validity of a will


A claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975


A proprietary estoppel claim