Our inheritance and wills disputes team report on an another successfully concluded claim.
We have recently concluded a dispute where we were not instructed until the eleventh hour. Our client brought a claim challenging the validity of his step-mother’s last Will, made in 2006, and her previous 2003 Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. He sought to admit her earlier Will, made in 2000, to probate as being her last valid testamentary disposition, under which he benefited. He therefore had standing to contest the Will as a ‘disappointed beneficiary’.
Under the terms of the step mother’s earlier Wills of 1975, 1998 and 2000 our client was appointed the sole executor and beneficiary of her estate, if he survived her husband, which he did. Those Wills were mirrored by her late husband’s own Will.
After the husband’s death however, the terms of her 2003 Will no longer appointed our client as her executor and he was merely gifted a £10,000 pecuniary legacy. The terms of her 2006 Will reduced that legacy further, to only £5,000. The residue of her estate passed to the step mother’s own relatives.
She died in 2008 leaving a net estate in the region of £400,000 and this was therefore the value of our client’s claim as he would have inherited the vast majority of the estate under the terms of the 2000 Will.
Claims challenging the validity of a Will can be difficult to succeed upon; even more so when you seek to disprove the validity of two wills executed many years apart.
Our client initiated the claim himself, commencing court proceedings as a litigant in person (ie without a solicitor) in August 2009. This was a complex case and involved difficult issues of disclosure and medical evidence. A stay of proceedings was ordered by the Judge but a round table meeting did not result in a settlement. Trial was therefore fixed for 3 days.
Our client approached several firms of solicitors throughout the duration of his claim but was (incorrectly) advised that he would not be eligible to apply for public funding to pursue the claim. He contacted us just 2 months before the trial. We immediately applied for and obtained Legal Aid. We then managed to get the Defendants to agree to adjourn the trial and to mediate the claim.
Mediation resulted in a settlement of the invalidity claim whereby our client agreed to his son receiving £69,000 in place of his own £5,000 legacy, plus payment of his legal costs. In exchange for this our client agreed to lift his caveat registered against the estate and for the 2006 Will to be admitted to probate.
The case demonstrates how useful mediation can be in resolving even the most protracted disputes. Although mediation is not cheap it is certainly a lot less expensive than going to trial. The costs risks to both sides cannot be ignored and sensibly in this case the parties were able to negotiate a compromise; with a little help from ourselves.
The case also illustrates the benefits of instructing specialist inheritance claim solicitors on complex contentious probate legal actions.