Claims Against an Estate

Claims Against an Estate
Claims Against an Estate
Full Overview Of Claims Against an Estate

When a loved one passes away, their estate often needs to be distributed according to their will or, if there is no will, according to the rules of intestacy. However, administering an estate can become complex and contentious when claims are made against it.

As solicitors specialising in probate at DLS, we aim to provide clarity on this intricate subject. We guide executors, beneficiaries, and potential claimants through the legal landscape.

Understanding Claims Against an Estate

Claims against an estate occur when an individual believes they have a legitimate right to a portion of the deceased’s assets, which they are not receiving under the terms of the will or intestacy. Such claims can arise from various grounds, each with specific legal considerations.

Types of Claims

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975

The most common type of claim against an estate arises under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. This act allows certain individuals to seek financial provision from the estate if they believe the will or the rules of intestacy do not make reasonable provision for them. Eligible claimants include:

  • Spouses or civil partners of the deceased
  • Former spouses or civil partners who have not remarried
  • Cohabitees who lived with the deceased for at least two years before death
  • Children of the deceased
  • Any person who was financially maintained by the deceased

To succeed in such a claim, the claimant must demonstrate that the current provision is not reasonable for their maintenance. The court considers several factors, including the claimant’s financial needs, the size and nature of the estate, and the obligations and responsibilities of the deceased towards the claimant.

Challenges to the Validity of the Will

Another basis for a claim is the validity of the will itself. A will can be contested on several grounds, including:

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: The claimant must prove that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to make a valid will at the time it was executed. This often involves medical evidence and witness testimonies.
  • Lack of Due Execution: The will must comply with legal formalities, including being in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two independent witnesses present at the same time.
  • Undue Influence: If the claimant believes the deceased was coerced or pressured into making the will, they must provide evidence of such undue influence, which can be challenging to prove.
  • Fraud or Forgery: A will may be contested if it is believed to be fraudulent or forged. This claim requires substantial evidence and often involves forensic analysis.

Proprietary Estoppel

Claims based on proprietary estoppel arise when the deceased made promises or assurances to the claimant about inheritance or property, upon which the claimant relied to their detriment. The court examines three key elements: a promise or assurance by the deceased, reliance by the claimant, and detriment suffered by the claimant due to that reliance.

Constructive Trusts

A constructive trust claim involves situations where the claimant believes they have a beneficial interest in the deceased’s property, even though the legal title may be in the deceased’s name. Such claims often arise in cohabitation scenarios where the claimant contributed financially or otherwise to the property, creating an implied trust.

The Process of Making a Claim

The process of making a claim against an estate involves several steps, each requiring careful attention to detail and adherence to legal protocols.

Initial Consultation

The first step is for the potential claimant to seek legal advice. At DLS Solicitors, we offer an initial consultation to assess the claim’s merits and provide guidance on the appropriate course of action. During this consultation, we gather information about the deceased, the will, and the claimant’s relationship with the deceased.

Pre-Action Protocol

Before initiating formal proceedings, it is often beneficial to follow the pre-action protocol. This involves sending a letter of claim to the executors or administrators of the estate, outlining the basis of the claim and the desired outcome. This step allows for the possibility of negotiation and settlement without court involvement.

Court Proceedings

If a settlement cannot be reached, the claimant may need to initiate court proceedings. This involves filing a claim form and supporting documents with the appropriate court. The executors or administrators of the estate will then have the opportunity to respond to the claim.

Disclosure and Evidence

During the litigation process, both parties are required to disclose relevant documents and evidence. This may include financial records, correspondence, medical reports, and witness statements. The evidence is crucial in supporting the claimant’s case and challenging the defence.

Mediation and Settlement

Courts often encourage mediation as a means of resolving disputes. Mediation involves a neutral third party who facilitates negotiations between the claimant and the estate’s representatives. A successful mediation can result in a mutually agreeable settlement, avoiding the need for a court trial.

Trial

If mediation fails, the case proceeds to trial. During the trial, both parties present their evidence and arguments before a judge, who then makes a determination based on the facts and applicable law. Trials can be lengthy and costly, so it is often in the best interest of both parties to seek resolution through earlier stages if possible.

Defending Against Claims

Executors and beneficiaries may find themselves on the receiving end of a claim against the estate. Defending against such claims requires a strategic approach and a thorough understanding of probate law.

Gathering Evidence

The first step in defending a claim is to gather evidence that supports the validity of the will and the deceased’s intentions. This may include medical records, witness statements, and documents proving compliance with legal formalities.

Legal Grounds for Defence

Executors can challenge the claim on various legal grounds, such as:

  • Testamentary Capacity: Providing evidence that the deceased had the mental capacity to make the will.
  • Proper Execution: Demonstrating that the will was executed in accordance with legal requirements.
  • Lack of Undue Influence: Showing that the deceased acted independently and without coercion when making the will.
  • Adequate Provision: Arguing that the will or intestacy rules provided reasonable financial provision for the claimant.

Negotiation and Settlement

Even when defending a claim, it is often prudent to explore settlement options. Engaging in negotiation or mediation can lead to a resolution that avoids the costs and uncertainties of a trial.

Costs and Funding

The costs associated with claims against an estate can be significant. It is essential for both claimants and defendants to consider the financial implications and explore funding options.

Legal Costs

Legal fees can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the stage at which it is resolved. Costs may include solicitor’s fees, court fees, expert witness fees, and other expenses.

Funding Options

Claimants may explore various funding options, such as:

  • Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs): Also known as “no win, no fee” agreements, where the solicitor’s fees are contingent on the success of the claim.
  • Legal Aid: Although limited in probate cases, some claimants may be eligible for legal aid.
  • Third-Party Funding: This involves a third party covering the legal costs in exchange for a share of the settlement or judgement.

Costs Orders

Courts have discretion to order one party to pay the other party’s costs. In probate cases, costs orders can be made against the estate or the losing party. It is essential to seek legal advice on the potential for costs orders and their implications.

Conclusion

Claims against an estate are complex and multifaceted, requiring a deep understanding of probate law and a strategic approach to litigation. At DLS Solicitors, we provide expert guidance to executors, beneficiaries, and claimants, ensuring that their rights and interests are protected throughout the process.

Whether you are considering making a claim or defending one, it is crucial to seek professional legal advice at the earliest opportunity. Our team at DLS Solicitors is committed to providing comprehensive support tailored to the unique circumstances of each case and dedicated to achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients.

Understanding the nuances of claims against an estate can be challenging, but with the right legal support, navigating this intricate landscape becomes manageable. Our goal is to ensure that the process is as smooth and fair as possible, respecting the wishes of the deceased while balancing the rights and needs of those left behind.

Claims Against an Estate FAQ'S

A claim against an estate is a legal challenge where an individual or entity asserts a right to a portion of the deceased person’s assets. This can occur for various reasons, such as debts owed by the deceased or disputes over the distribution of the estate.

Claims can be made by creditors, beneficiaries, or individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased. Common claimants include spouses, children, cohabiting partners, and anyone who believes they were promised something from the estate.

Generally, claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 must be made within six months from the date of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. Other claims, such as debt recovery, may have different time limits.

This Act allows certain individuals to claim against an estate if they believe they have not been adequately provided for in the Will or under the rules of intestacy. Eligible claimants include spouses, former spouses, children, and dependants.

Yes, creditors can make a claim against an estate to recover debts owed by the deceased. Executors must settle valid debts before distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries.

To make a claim, the claimant typically needs to file a formal claim with the probate court, providing evidence and details supporting their case. It’s advisable to seek legal advice to ensure the claim is correctly prepared and submitted.

The executor should review the claim carefully, seek legal advice, and determine its validity. Executors must ensure that valid claims are paid from the estate’s assets before distributing the remaining estate to beneficiaries.

It is possible, but more complicated. Beneficiaries may need to return assets to satisfy valid claims. Executors should wait until the claim period has expired before distributing the estate to avoid this situation.

The executor must review all claims, settle valid debts, and address disputes. If the estate cannot cover all claims, they may need to seek court guidance. Claims are typically settled in a specific order, with debts and taxes paid first.

Executors can be held personally liable if they distribute the estate without settling valid claims, especially if they were aware of potential claims. It’s crucial for executors to ensure all claims are addressed before final distribution.

Disclaimer

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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