Want of Knowledge and Approval

Want of Knowledge and Approval
Want of Knowledge and Approval
Full Overview Of Want of Knowledge and Approval

Probate can be a complex and emotionally taxing process, particularly when issues of want of knowledge and approval arise.

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the intricacies and sensitivities involved in such cases. This comprehensive overview provides a detailed understanding of want of knowledge and approval in probate. It addresses its implications, the legal framework, the process of contesting a will on these grounds, and the rights of beneficiaries. We aim to offer clarity and guidance for those navigating this challenging aspect of probate law.

Understanding Want of Knowledge and Approval

The term “want of knowledge and approval” in probate law refers to situations where it is alleged that the testator (the person making the will) did not fully understand or approve of the contents of their will. This challenge arises when there are concerns that the testator may not have been aware of, or did not consent to, the specific provisions outlined in their will.

Definition and Legal Principles

Want of knowledge and approval implies that the testator lacked full comprehension of the nature and effect of their will at the time of its execution. This can occur for various reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. Mental Incapacity: The testator may have lacked the mental capacity to understand their will due to illness, medication, or age-related cognitive decline.
  2. Fraud or Forgery: The will may have been altered or created without the testator’s knowledge or consent.
  3. Suspicious Circumstances: Unusual or suspicious circumstances may surround the creation or signing of the will, raising doubts about the testator’s knowledge and approval.

The principles governing want of knowledge and approval in probate are derived from common law and have been shaped by various landmark cases. Key principles include:

  1. Burden of Proof: Initially, the burden of proof lies with the person challenging the will to demonstrate that the testator did not know and approve of its contents. However, if suspicious circumstances are established, the burden shifts to the will’s proponents to prove that the testator did indeed have such knowledge and approval.
  2. Evidence: The court requires clear and convincing evidence to determine the lack of knowledge and approval. This can include witness testimonies, medical records, and the circumstances under which the will was executed.
  3. Presumption of Due Execution: A will that has been duly executed (signed by the testator and witnessed) is generally presumed to be valid, and the testator is presumed to have had knowledge and approval of its contents unless proven otherwise.

How To Contest a Will on Grounds of Want of Knowledge and Approval

Contesting a will on the grounds of want of knowledge and approval involves several stages, each requiring careful consideration and legal expertise. The process typically includes the following steps:

  1. Initial Assessment: Assessing whether there are grounds to challenge the will based on want of knowledge and approval. This involves gathering preliminary evidence and understanding the circumstances under which the will was created and signed.
  2. Gathering Evidence: Collecting evidence to support the claim of want of knowledge and approval. This can include:
    • Witness statements from friends, family, or professionals involved in the will’s creation.
    • Medical records indicating the testator’s mental capacity.
    • Any documents or records that suggest fraud, forgery, or suspicious circumstances.
  3. Legal Proceedings: Initiating legal proceedings to contest the will. This involves filing a claim in the Probate Registry and presenting the evidence in court.
  4. Court Hearing: The court will consider the evidence and hear testimonies from both parties. The burden of proof lies with the claimant, but it may shift to the proponents of the will if suspicious circumstances are established.
  5. Judgment: The court will make a judgment based on the evidence presented. If want of knowledge and approval is proven, the will may be declared invalid, and the estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy or a previous valid will.

Rights of Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries under a will have specific rights and protections, particularly when want of knowledge and approval is suspected. These rights include:

  1. Right to Information: Beneficiaries have the right to be informed about the administration of the estate and any legal proceedings affecting their inheritance.
  2. Right to Challenge: Beneficiaries can challenge the validity of a will if they suspect want of knowledge and approval. This involves initiating legal proceedings and presenting evidence to support their claim.
  3. Right to Fair Distribution: If want of knowledge and approval is proven, beneficiaries are entitled to a fair distribution of the estate according to the rules of intestacy or a previous valid will.

Common Indicators of Want of Knowledge and Approval

Identifying want of knowledge and approval can be challenging, as it often involves subtle and complex factors. However, certain indicators can raise suspicions and warrant further investigation. These include:

  1. Unusual Provisions: Provisions in the will that are unexpected or significantly different from the testator’s previous wishes or established intentions.
  2. Changes Shortly Before Death: Changes to the will made shortly before the testator’s death, particularly if they significantly alter the distribution of the estate.
  3. Testator’s Mental Capacity: Evidence that the testator may have lacked the mental capacity to understand the will due to illness, medication, or cognitive decline.
  4. Absence of Legal Advice: The absence of professional legal advice during the creation of the will, especially if the testator was vulnerable or the will is complex.
  5. Involvement of Beneficiaries: Situations where beneficiaries were closely involved in the drafting or execution of the will, raising questions about their influence over the testator.

Case Studies

To illustrate the complexities and challenges of want of knowledge and approval in probate, we present two case studies that highlight common scenarios and issues that may arise.

Case Study 1: The Brown Family

Mary Brown, an elderly widow, passed away, leaving behind a will that significantly altered her previous estate plan. The will favoured a distant relative, Andrew, over her children, Alice and John. Alice and John suspected that Mary did not fully understand or approve of the new will’s contents.

Challenges:

  • Sudden Changes: Mary’s new will was drafted and signed shortly before her death, significantly changing her previous estate plan.
  • Mental Capacity: Mary had been diagnosed with dementia, raising questions about her ability to understand and approve of the will.
  • Lack of Legal Advice: Mary did not seek professional legal advice when creating the new will, relying instead on Andrew’s assistance.

Outcome: Alice and John gathered evidence, including medical records indicating Mary’s cognitive decline and witness statements from friends and carers. The court found that Mary lacked the requisite knowledge and approval of the new will’s contents due to her mental state and the suspicious circumstances surrounding its creation. The will was declared invalid, and the estate was distributed according to Mary’s previous valid will, ensuring a fair outcome for Alice and John.

Case Study 2: The Harris Family

Thomas Harris, a successful businessman, passed away, leaving a will that favoured his business partner, Peter, over his family. Thomas’s wife, Laura, and their children suspected that Thomas did not fully understand or approve of the will’s contents, particularly given his recent illness.

Challenges:

  • Unusual Provisions: The will contained provisions that were significantly different from Thomas’s previously expressed wishes and estate plan.
  • Health Issues: Thomas had been suffering from a terminal illness, affecting his mental capacity and decision-making abilities.
  • Involvement of Beneficiaries: Peter was closely involved in the drafting and signing of the will, raising questions about his influence over Thomas.

Outcome: Laura and her children collected evidence, including medical records and testimonies from Thomas’s colleagues and friends. The court concluded that Thomas did not fully know and approve of the will’s contents due to his illness and Peter’s involvement. The will was declared invalid, and the estate was distributed according to the rules of intestacy, providing for Laura and their children.

Practical Considerations

For those dealing with suspected want of knowledge and approval in probate, there are several practical considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Seek Legal Advice: Professional legal advice is crucial in understanding the complexities of want of knowledge and approval and navigating the legal process effectively.
  2. Gather Evidence: Collecting comprehensive evidence is essential to support a claim of want of knowledge and approval. This includes witness statements, medical records, financial documents, and any other relevant information.
  3. Communicate Openly: Open and transparent communication with other beneficiaries and involved parties can help manage expectations and reduce the potential for disputes.
  4. Maintain Records: Keeping detailed records of all interactions, decisions, and transactions related to the will and estate can be valuable in supporting or defending against claims of want of knowledge and approval.
  5. Emotional Support: Dealing with the death of a loved one and the complexities of probate can be emotionally challenging. Seeking support from friends, family, or professional counsellors can help manage the emotional burden.

Conclusion

Want of knowledge and approval in probate is a serious and complex issue that can significantly impact the validity of a will and the fair distribution of an estate. At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert advice and support to those dealing with suspected want of knowledge and approval. Our goal is to ensure that the administration process is handled efficiently and fairly, respecting the rights of beneficiaries and upholding the genuine wishes of the deceased.

If you are facing the challenges of want of knowledge and approval in probate, we encourage you to seek professional advice and support. Our team of experienced solicitors is here to help, offering guidance and assistance every step of the way. Whether you are an administrator, a beneficiary, or a concerned family member, we are dedicated to ensuring that the process is as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy, but with the right support and guidance, you can navigate the complexities of want of knowledge and approval and ensure that the estate is administered in accordance with the law and the true intentions of the deceased.

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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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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