Pretermitted Heir

Pretermitted Heir
Pretermitted Heir
Full Overview Of Pretermitted Heir

In probate law, the concept of a pretermitted heir is very important, especially when it comes to the administration and distribution of an estate. A pretermitted heir is an individual, usually a child or sometimes a spouse, who has been accidentally left out of a will. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the term “pretermitted heir,” exploring its implications, the legal framework, and the steps necessary to address such situations within British probate law.

Definition and Context

A pretermitted heir is a beneficiary who, due to the testator’s oversight or the circumstances at the time of the will’s drafting, has been inadvertently left out of the will. This situation often arises when a child is born or adopted after the execution of the will, or in cases where the testator marries or enters into a civil partnership after the will’s creation. The law recognises the potential for such omissions and provides mechanisms to protect the interests of pretermitted heirs.

Legal Framework

Historical Background

Historically, the concept of a pretermitted heir has been recognised in various legal systems, dating back to Roman law. The Roman legal principle of “legitim” ensured that children could not be entirely disinherited without a just cause. This principle has evolved over centuries, influencing modern probate laws in the UK and other jurisdictions.

Current Legislation in the UK

The UK’s legal framework governing pretermitted heirs is primarily outlined in the Wills Act 1837 and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. These statutes provide the foundation for addressing the rights and entitlements of individuals who have been inadvertently omitted from a will.

Wills Act 1837

The Wills Act of 1837 sets out the formal requirements for the creation and execution of wills. It does not explicitly address pretermitted heirs but establishes the overarching principles of testamentary freedom and the validity of wills. It is within this context that the rights of pretermitted heirs are considered.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975

The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 is more directly relevant to the issue of pretermitted heirs. This Act allows certain individuals, including children and spouses, to apply to the court for reasonable financial provision from the deceased’s estate if they have been omitted from the will or received insufficient provision. The court considers various factors, such as the applicant’s financial needs, the size of the estate, and the testator’s intentions.

Case Law and Judicial Interpretation

Over the years, numerous cases have shaped the interpretation and application of laws relating to pretermitted heirs. Courts have consistently emphasised the importance of balancing the testator’s intentions with the need to provide for dependents and close family members. Critical cases have highlighted the judiciary’s role in interpreting the law to ensure fair outcomes.

Practical Implications

Identifying a Pretermitted Heir

The first step in addressing the issue of a pretermitted heir is identifying whether an individual qualifies as such. This typically involves examining the circumstances surrounding the creation of the will and any changes in the testator’s family situation that occurred after the will’s execution. Common scenarios include:

  • Birth or Adoption of a Child: If a child is born or adopted after the will is made and the will does not provide for them, they may be considered a pretermitted heir.
  • Marriage or Civil Partnership: If the testator marries or enters into a civil partnership after making the will, the spouse or civil partner may have a claim as a pretermitted heir.
  • Changes in Relationships: Changes in relationships, such as divorce or estrangement, can also impact the status of individuals as presumed heirs.

Addressing Claims by Pretermitted Heirs

When a presumed heir is identified, several steps must be taken to address their claims. These steps include:

  1. Reviewing the Will: A thorough review of the will is essential to determining the extent of the omission and the testator’s intentions. Legal professionals must carefully analyse the language and provisions of the will to assess its implications.
  2. Assessing the Estate: The next step involves assessing the size and composition of the estate. This includes valuing assets, liabilities, and any other relevant financial considerations. Understanding the estate’s value is crucial for determining the potential impact of a presumed heir’s claim.
  3. Negotiation and Mediation: In many cases, it is beneficial to attempt to resolve claims through negotiation or mediation. This approach can help avoid lengthy and costly legal proceedings. Legal professionals can facilitate discussions between the presumed heir and other beneficiaries to reach a fair and amicable settlement.
  4. Court Applications: If negotiation fails, a pretermitted heir may need to apply to the court for provision from the estate. The court will consider various factors, including the financial needs of the claimant, the testator’s intentions, and the overall fairness of the proposed distribution.

Potential Outcomes

The outcomes of cases involving pretermitted heirs can vary widely, depending on the specific circumstances and the court’s assessment. Potential outcomes include:

  • Provision of Financial Support: The court may order that the pretermitted heir receive financial support from the estate. This could be in the form of a lump-sum payment, regular maintenance payments, or a share of the estate’s assets.
  • Modification of the Will: In some cases, the court may modify the terms of the will to include the pretermitted heir or adjust the distribution to ensure fairness.
  • Rejection of Claims: If the court determines that the presumed heir’s claim is not justified, it may reject the application, upholding the original terms of the will.

Challenges and Considerations

Balancing Interests

One of the primary challenges in cases involving pretermitted heirs is balancing the interests of all parties involved. This includes respecting the testator’s wishes, providing for the needs of dependents, and ensuring a fair distribution of the estate. Legal professionals must navigate these competing interests with sensitivity and expertise.

Evidentiary Issues

Establishing the status and entitlements of a pretermitted heir often involves complex evidentiary issues. This can include proving the relationship between the claimant and the testator, demonstrating the testator’s intentions, and providing evidence of the claimant’s financial needs. Thorough documentation and careful legal analysis are essential.

Emotional and Family Dynamics

Cases involving presumed heirs can be emotionally charged, particularly when they involve close family members. Legal professionals must be prepared to handle sensitive family dynamics and provide support to clients navigating these challenging situations.

Best Practices for Legal Professionals

Proactive Estate Planning

One of the most effective ways to prevent issues related to pretermitted heirs is proactive estate planning. Legal professionals should encourage clients to regularly review and update their wills to reflect changes in their family and financial circumstances. This includes revising wills after major life events, such as the birth of a child or marriage.

Clear Communication

Clear communication is essential in addressing the issue of pretermitted heirs. Legal professionals should explain the implications of omissions in wills to clients and discuss potential scenarios that could arise. Providing clients with comprehensive information can help them make informed decisions and minimise the risk of disputes.

Thorough Documentation

Thorough documentation is crucial in cases involving presumed heirs. Legal professionals should maintain detailed records of the testator’s intentions, the drafting process, and any relevant changes in the testator’s circumstances. This documentation can be invaluable in supporting or defending claims.

Sensitivity and Empathy

Given the emotional nature of cases involving presumed heirs, legal professionals should approach these situations with sensitivity and empathy. Understanding the personal and emotional aspects of these cases can help build trust with clients and facilitate more effective dispute resolution.


The concept of a pretermitted heir is crucial in probate law. It’s essential to ensure that the rights and entitlements of individuals unintentionally left out of wills are addressed. This requires a deep understanding of the legal framework, practical implications, and best practices for legal professionals. By balancing the interests of all parties involved and offering proactive estate planning, legal professionals can help minimise disputes and ensure fair outcomes in cases involving pretermitted heirs. Through clear communication, thorough documentation, and a sensitive approach, solicitors can effectively navigate the complexities of these cases and provide valuable support to their clients.

Pretermitted Heir FAQ'S

A pretermitted heir is a child or other descendant who has been unintentionally omitted from a Will, often because they were born or adopted after the Will was made.

UK law does not have specific provisions for pretermitted heirs like some other jurisdictions. Instead, protection may come through the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows certain individuals to make a claim if they were not reasonably provided for in the Will.

Yes, a pretermitted heir can challenge a Will under the Inheritance Act 1975 if they believe they have not been reasonably provided for. They must show that they were financially dependent on the deceased or that the Will does not make reasonable provision for their maintenance.

Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 must be made within six months from the date of the Grant of Probate.

Courts consider several factors, including the financial needs and resources of the applicant, the size and nature of the estate, the relationship between the applicant and the deceased, and any obligations the deceased had towards the applicant.

Regularly updating the Will to reflect changes in family circumstances, such as the birth or adoption of children, can help avoid unintentionally omitting an heir. Including a clause that accounts for future children can also provide protection.

If the claim is successful, the court can order reasonable financial provision for the pretermitted heir from the estate, which may involve adjusting the distributions specified in the Will.

Stepchildren are not automatically considered heirs under intestacy laws but can be included in a Will. If they were financially dependent on the deceased, they might make a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975.

Defences can include demonstrating that the deceased made adequate provision for the heir through other means, or that the claimant was not financially dependent on the deceased.

If the deceased died intestate (without a Will), their children, including those born after the last Will or who were omitted, would inherit according to the rules of intestacy, which prioritise spouses and children.


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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