Cheap, off-the-shelf wills may not stand up to the rigours of a court case in the event of a complex dispute, a lawyer has warned.
Indeed, some matters relating to wills and probate are becoming so complex that they are even beyond the scope of non-specialist lawyers, according to Suzanne Lee, of West Midland law firm MFG Solicitors.
She warned that many off-the-shelf wills could fall apart under close scrutiny in contentious litigation cases, depriving the legitimate beneficiaries of their share of an estate.
Cheap and simple wills can be a useful first step toward the risk of someone dying intestate. But where large amounts of capital and property are involved, the issue needs to be scrutinised more closely.
Ms Lee strongly advised anyone likely to be involved in contentious probate litigation – or wanting the administration of an estate to be watertight – to appoint a specialist lawyer.
She said: “The probate lawyer you choose should be experienced in handling all aspects of probate law and contentious probate litigation. A list of client testimonials would also be a good indicator.”
Wills sometimes are sometimes contested as being unfair, on the grounds that reasonable financial provision had not been made for everyone entitled to expect it. In certain cases the law provided the chance of claiming against an estate even if there was no provision for the claimant under the will or the Intestacy Rules.
Ms Lee said: “Some people may be required to prove they were dependent on the deceased at the time of death, or living with him or her for two years immediately before the death. The court is empowered to make orders which effectively rewrite the will or the Intestacy Rules to ensure that reasonable financial provision is made.”
She added: “Time limits are critical in family provision claims. If they are not made within the specified time the applicants may lose the right to pursue what would otherwise have been a justifiable claim.”
Disputes might occur over wills when there was opposition to how the estate was being administered or over doubt as to whether the deceased had the capacity to make a will – or whether undue influence was exerted to bring about the will.
Other cases occurred where the meaning of clauses in a will were open to interpretation, bringing claims against solicitors for the negligent drafting.
Ms Lee said: “Executors and trustees may have to be pursued for the way the estate or trust has been administered leading to a subsequent loss borne by the estate or trust. There have even been cases where applications have been made to apply to the court for the removal from office of executors and trustees.
“These are all complex legal matters and applicants for a claim should always obtain specialist legal advice.”