What is the Success Rate of Contesting a Will in the UK?

copy of will
What is the Success Rate of Contesting a Will in the UK?

Contesting a will in the UK is often perceived as a daunting prospect, fraught with emotional stress and legal complexities. For those considering challenging the validity of a deceased person’s will, understanding the likelihood of success is crucial. This blog post delves into the intricacies of contesting wills in the UK, examining the success rates, reasons for challenges, the legal processes involved, and some practical advice for those embarking on this challenging journey.

Understanding Will Contests

Contesting a will, legally known as a ‘Will dispute’, involves challenging the legal validity of a will. In England and Wales, such disputes are governed by a variety of laws and precedents. Before delving into the statistics and success rates, it’s essential to understand the common grounds on which a will can be contested:

  • Lack of Testamentary Capacity: Challenging the testator’s mental capacity at the time the will was written.
  • Undue Influence: Claiming that the testator was coerced into making the will.
  • Lack of Knowledge and Approval: Asserting that the testator did not understand or approve of the contents of the will.
  • Improper Execution: Arguing that the will was not correctly signed and witnessed, according to the legal requirements.
  • Fraud or Forgery: Contesting that the will was forged or involved fraudulent circumstances.

Success Rates of Contesting Wills

Determining the exact success rate of contesting wills in the UK is complex, as many cases are settled out of court and thus not always publicly recorded. However, available data and expert opinions suggest that only a small percentage of will disputes that go to court result in the will being declared invalid.

  • General Statistics: It is estimated that annually, around 1% of wills are formally contested, with the number of wills made each year being around 270,000. This equates to roughly 2,700 contested wills per year.
  • Outcomes: Of these contests, a significant proportion are settled before reaching trial. For those that go to court, approximately 0.5% to 1% result in a ruling that the will is invalid. This statistic underscores the high burden of proof required to overturn a will under UK law.

Why Are Will Disputes Challenging?

The challenge in contesting a will primarily lies in the substantial evidence required to prove any of the grounds mentioned. The courts maintain a high threshold for overturning a will to preserve the sanctity of the testator’s last wishes. This strict standard ensures that challenges are thoroughly vetted to prevent frivolous claims that could disrupt estate distributions unjustly.

Key Factors Influencing Success

  • Evidence Quality: The success of a will contest heavily depends on the quality of evidence presented. Medical records, witness testimonies, and expert opinions often play critical roles in these cases.
  • Legal Representation: Engaging solicitors who specialise in contested wills can significantly impact the outcome. Experienced lawyers can navigate the complex legal landscape effectively and advocate persuasively on behalf of their clients.
  • Early Intervention: Taking action quickly, ideally before the estate is distributed, can improve the chances of success. Once the estate’s assets are distributed, recovering them becomes considerably more complex and unlikely.

The Process of Contesting a Will

For those considering this route, understanding the process is vital:

  1. Initial Assessment: Consult with a solicitor specialising in contentious probate to assess the viability of your case.
  2. Entering a Caveat: If there’s a strong case, the first step is often to enter a caveat at the Probate Registry, which prevents the estate from being distributed while the dispute is resolved.
  3. Gathering Evidence: Collecting comprehensive evidence to support the claim is next. This stage can be lengthy and involves detailed scrutiny of the testator’s personal, medical, and financial records.
  4. Mediation or Negotiation: Many disputes are resolved through mediation or negotiation, which can be less costly and quicker than going to court.
  5. Court Proceedings: If a settlement is not achievable, the case will proceed to court, where a judge will make a final decision.

Practical Advice for Contemplating a Will Contest

  • Assess the Emotional and Financial Costs: Contesting a will can be emotionally draining and expensive. It’s crucial to consider whether the potential benefits outweigh these costs.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of any evidence that supports your case, including interactions that may demonstrate the testator’s intentions or state of mind.
  • Be Prepared for a Long Process: Will disputes can take years to resolve, especially if they go to court. Patience and resilience are essential.

Conclusion

While the success rate of contesting a will in the UK is relatively low, each case is unique. With the right evidence and legal support, challenging a will can be justified, especially if there are substantial reasons to believe that the will does not accurately reflect the testator’s wishes. Those considering this path should seek expert legal advice to evaluate the strength of their case and understand the potential for success.

This analysis should provide a comprehensive view, but it’s always advisable to consult with a solicitor to discuss specific circumstances and receive tailored advice.

Avatar of DLS Solicitors by DLS Solicitors
13th May 2024
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS 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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