contentious probate

Window cleaner stripped of inheritance

Window cleaner stripped of inheritance

A window cleaner was stripped of his inheritance recently, when a High Court judge ruled that the deceased had not had sufficient mental capacity to draft a new will.

The woman, Julie Spalding, left behind a £300,000 inheritance, and had originally promised to leave her bungalow to her nephew, Cecil Bray, who looked after her in her later years.  Unfortunately, in 2005, she experienced a number of falls which, it is said, significantly altered her personality.  It was during this time that she struck up a close friendship with her then-window cleaner, Albert Pearce.

It was not until Ms Spalding died in 2008, that it was revealed she had made a further three wills between 2005 and 2008, in effect leaving everything not to her nephew, but to Mr Pearce.

In this contentious probate case, MrPearce has now been asked to repay any inheritance he has already spent, and is to return the rest of the monies, which are to be given to the deceased woman's nephew.

Will intestacy lead to loss of home?

“Will intestacy lead to the loss of my home?” is a question which is not uncommon.

Only last week I read about the sad case of a woman who, after her mother died, moved into the family home to look after her ailing father.

Unfortunately, neither the father nor the mother had written a will and after the inevitable happened and her father died, the often thorny question of inheritance arose.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as though relations were strained between the woman and her siblings, which led her to ask whether, as the home would be divided between all the brothers and sisters, they could force her to leave? She was particularly concerned as she had nowhere else to go.

The woman was advised to seek the advice of a contentious probate professional without delay, with the aim of making a claim against her father’s estate. Her options were limited to buying her siblings out or giving them rent for their shares. If they didn’t agree to either option, however, they would be entirely within their rights to take her to court in order to forcibly evict her.

Contentious probate – How long does a contentious probate case take?


Contentious probate can take months or even years to settle in complex cases.  However, the number of probate cases being contested continues to rise.
The media has highlighted the estate of the late Peter Ustinov, whose family is still locked in battle over his estate, nine years after he died.
Although the famous actor left a multi million pound estate and had even prepared a Will well in advance of his death, the mounting legal fees may mean that much of his estate will have been wasted in this way.
With the traditional family structure having been altered beyond recognition, probate is now a much more complicated process than it used to be, with step parents, step children and multiple parentage posing more challenges.
If you wish to challenge a Will therefore, it is vital that you approach an experienced contentious probate professional, who will guide you and keep you informed throughout the entire process.

Contentious probate cases increase

Figures have just been released which reveal that the number of High Court contentious probate cases have doubled since 2006 – no doubt as a result of increasing financial pressure on families left behind.
663 contentious probate cases were heard by the High Court last year, although it is thought that hundreds more are usually settled before a case reaches this stage.
Wills can be challenged if it can be proven that the deceased was not of sound mind when they had the document prepared, or that they were coerced into leaving their money to a specific individual. In some instances, if any remaining children or dependants who relied upon income received from the deceased during their lifetime, can prove that their future has not been adequately provided for, the Will can then in specific circumstances, also be overturned.
The Law Commission is in the process of appealing for a change to intestacy rules but in the meantime, a responsible and experienced probate practitioner should always encourage any disputes over a Will to be settled before expensive Court costs are incurred.

Is the number of probate disputes rising?

Statistics by the Ministry of Justice have shown that the number of probate disputes in London has rose by 19% in 2011. There were 556 claims issued at the High Court in London in 2010, involving wills, trusts and estates. This figure increased to 663 cases for 2011. In 2006, 2 years before the 2008 crisis, there were just 310 cases; that’s an increase of 46.75%. 
There have also been a number of high profile cases in the media recently;
Thomas Kinkada – The wife and girlfriend of the artist known as the Painter of Light are in dispute over his $60 million estate. His mistress produced a shaky, hand-written will that states she should inherit a large portion of assets.
Jimmy Saville – left the majority of his £7.3 million estate to charity in his will.  Probate has been interrupted after a woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter stepped forward to make a claim on the star’s fortune.
Liliane Bettencourt –L'Oreal heiress and France’s richest woman has been declared unfit to manage her financial affairs. A 3 year court battle resulted in her daughter obtaining a guardianship order. As her health declined, Alzheimers sufferer Liliane changed her will making photographer Francois-Marie Banier sole heir to her billion dollar estate. 
These statistics certainly seem to imply that the increase in disputes can be attributed to the recession. The property crash has meant that estates are worth a lot less than they were. There’s a lot less to go around and beneficiaries can be shocked to discover they won’t inherit a life-changing sum. Relatives who have financial problems themselves cause by the recession will naturally be more likely to contest a will too.
2 thirds of Brits actually die intestate (without a will), and estate distribution is determined by the laws of intestacy. These laws have been criticised for being out-dated, bearing little relevance to modern families. An example of this is that common law spouses are not entitled to inherit. This can have serious implications for the survivor who, in theory, can be left destitute. As co-habitation is so prevalent these days, many more people are being affected by this. Families of today come in all shapes and sizes and the Inheritance Act does not take this into account. This may also account for rising numbers of contentious probate cases.

What is an interim grant?

An interim grant is usually approved by the Court if there is some sort of contention during the probate process, allowing an independent third party to continue working on the administration until the problem reaches a conclusion.
The interim grant is only permitted to be in force during the period of the Court case and tends to be given to an accountant or solicitor. During this time, the individual administering the Estate cannot begin to distribute any assets. Their job is solely to protect the assets contained within the Estate.
So, regardless of whether or not a Caveat has been registered with the Probate Registry in an attempt to halt the process, the deceased’s Estate will continue to be administered with outstanding bills being paid and daily tasks being carried out as normal, until the probate dispute has been resolved.

Contentious probate – when a Will is contested

Complicated family structures can result in an undignified battle when it comes to the delicate matter of inheritance; as seen recently in the media, when the partner of a millionaire spent six years in legal dispute with the children of her former boyfriend.
Ramadan Guney, who owned the UK’s largest cemetery, had six grown up children, then fathered another child with his new partner.
On his death, Mr Guney left a £28 million fortune which was then fought over by the six children and Mr Guney’s partner, who wanted to claim “reasonable financial provision” against his Estate.
The battle became extremely ugly, with the children claiming their father had had a vasectomy 30 years previously and questioning the parentage of the other youngest son. In turn, Ms Holiday, Mr Gurney’s partner, claimed that the six siblings had tried to kill her. The situation became so bad that Mr Gurney’s grown up children claimed that their father had in fact been murdered, and had his body exhumed.
Finally, despite the outlandish claims from both sides, the Court agreed with Ms Holiday and awarded her £60,000 per year from the Estate, along with the cemetery, valued between £700,000 and £1.2 million.
Prevent any bad blood occurring between your family members by not only keeping your Will updated but by maintaining a memorandum, which will explain your wishes and reasons behind the content of your Will.

Probate Dispute Over Inheritance

Another sad probate dispute was reported in the press recently.
This one focused on the deceased owner of Corby Castle, Sir John Howard-Lawson and his businessman son.
The castle was sold in 1990, but the surviving son, Mr Howard, claimed that his father was not legal owner of the castle at that time and so he felt that he should be entitled to receive £1.5 million from the proceeds of the sale.
It appears that Sir Howard-Lawson’s own great grandfather had inserted a “name and arms” clause into his Will which stated that to inherit the castle, his descendants should adopt the Howard surname and coat of arms. 
The son felt that his father had not complied with these terms, but the case was rejected by the Court, who was satisfied that Sir Howard-Lawson had indeed complied with the terms before the sale had taken place.

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