We have recently concluded a will dispute in which we were not instructed until the eleventh hour.
Our client brought a claim challenging the validity of his stepmother’s will made in 2006 (and her previous 2003 will) on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence.
Under the terms of his stepmother’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 she made a new will. The terms of her 2003 will no longer appointed our client as her executor and he was merely gifted a £10,000 legacy. The terms of her 2006 will reduced that legacy further, to only £5,000. The residue of her estate passed to the stepmother’s own relatives.
She died in 2008 leaving a net estate in the region of £400,000. Our client would have inherited the vast majority of the estate under the terms of the 2000 will.
Our client decided to challenge the validity of his stepmother’s last two wills. He initiated the claim himself, commencing court proceedings as a ‘litigant in person’ (ie without a solicitor). This was a complex case and involved difficult issues of disclosure and medical evidence. Trial was fixed for three days.
Our client decided that he should get legal representation and contacted us just two months before the trial. We are highly experienced in dealing with disputes between stepchildren and stepparents and familiar with the law governing these cases. We reviewed the papers and agreed to take the claim on.
Trials are very expensive and can use up a large proportion of assets in an estate, which doesn’t help either side in a dispute. We therefore immediately invited the defendants to adjourn the trial and take part in mediation. Mediation is a much cheaper and faster alternative to court proceedings and the defendants were happy to agree to our suggestion.
The mediation was very constructive and resulted in a successful out of court settlement being reached.
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.