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Contesting a Will

View profile for Laura Pracy
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When writing a Will, people leave things to loved ones to recognise the special place they had in their lives, or as a thank you for what they did.

Whether it is spouses, partners, children, grandchildren, other relatives, friends or charities people can leave money or possessions to individuals or groups, feeling reassured that their wishes are being carried out.

But, despite the existence of a Will, family members who feel snubbed by its contents may want to contest the Will. One of the grounds Wills are often contested in courts today is on the grounds of undue influence. This has been highlighted by the recent High Court case Rea v Rea [2019].

Mrs Anna Rea’s original Will made in 1986 left her estate, the most significant asset being her £1 million London home, to be shared equally between her four children.

But following a heart attack, it was her daughter, Rita, who looked after her. Mrs Rea wrote a new Will in 2015, which she left everything to her daughter and nothing to her three sons.

Following her death, Rita commenced a claim and sought a pronouncement from the Court that the 2015 Will be approved. The three brothers sought to have the new Will overturned and the earlier Will reinstated, arguing that their sister had turned their mother against them.

The Court heard that Rita had moved in with her mother and became her main carer, while the brothers rarely visited.

Mrs Rea had also included a clause in the 2015 Will which stated that in the event of a challenge by the brothers, the executors of her estate were to defend it. This helped the court reach its decision that there had been no undue influence by their sister and Mrs Rea had made the new Will on her own and was entitled to change her mind about who she left her million-pound estate to.

In order for a Will to be valid, it must be signed by the person making it and be signed in the presence of two witnesses. If this has not been done, the Will is deemed to be invalid failing to comply with s.9 of the Wills Act 1837.

Being unhappy with its contents is not on its own grounds to contest a Will

The fact that someone is unhappy with a Will is not on its own grounds to challenge it. As in the case of Mrs Rea, the Will maker must be free to decide how to divide their estate and who to leave it to after their death. If they are under any undue influence or duress, the Will is invalid.

Also, the person making the Will must have the capacity to understand what they are doing and the binding consequences of the document they are signing. If it can be proved that they did not fully understand what they were signing, the Will is invalid. Courts will also find a Will to be invalid if it is proved to be a forgery or has been altered in any way.

In this case, the judge did not need to decide whether or not the Will was fair, only that it was valid and was not made under any undue influence.

If you suspect a Will to be invalid or have concerns it may be a forgery or made under undue influence, it is vital that you obtain legal advice quickly.

Call us on 0161 785 7291 for a free, informal consultation about whether you have grounds to contest a Will.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.