Am I entitled to a copy of a Will?
Until probate has been granted, it is only the Executors of a Will who are entitled to a copy of it. There is nothing to stop you from asking the Executors for a copy but they cannot be forced to show it to you.
You can find out whether probate has been granted by carrying out a free online search at www.gov.uk/search-will-probate. To do that you need to know the deceased’s surname and year of death.
You can also lodge a 6 month standing search at the Probate Registry which means that if probate is granted in the next 6 months, you will receive a copy.
Once probate has been granted (and sometimes it never is) the Will becomes a public document and for a fee you can obtain a copy of it from the Probate Registry.
What do I do if I do not want to be an Executor?
Being an Executor involves obligations, duties and potential liability that some people just do not want. The good news is that provided you have not done anything with the deceased’s estate, if you do not want to be an Executor you can renounce i.e. give up the role completely. The procedure is relatively straight forward but will involve you in lodging a formal renunciation document at the Probate Registry.
I am a beneficiary under a Will and I do not agree with what the Executor is doing. Can I have them removed?
Yes you can but it is a difficult and potentially expensive process because you will have to go to Court and prove for example that there has been some very serious misconduct which has caused loss to the estate for instance that the Executor has stolen estate assets or that he has wasted or mismanaged the estate. It is not enough to say that the Executor has been slow or has failed to provide you with information.
I do not believe my relative knew what they were doing when they made their Will. Is there anything I can do?
When someone makes a Will they must at that time have the necessary mental capacity to do so. Broadly speaking what that means is that they must understand what they are doing and must understand the extent of the property which they is giving away. They also need to be able to understand and appreciate the claims to which they ought to give effect.
Trying to assess whether somebody had the necessary mental capacity to make a Will can often be a difficult task. More often than not it will be necessary to (a) examine the deceased’s medical records to see whether he was being treated for any condition which might have impacted on his mental state, for example dementia, (b) look closely into the circumstances in which the Will was made and (c) obtain an expert’s report from a suitably qualified medical practitioner as to the deceased’s mental state at the time the Will was executed.
If the Will was prepared by a solicitor you will usually find that if the solicitor had any doubts about the testator’s mental capacity he will have made a note on the file about that and most likely he will also have arranged for a medical practitioner to confirm that the testator had the necessary capacity at the time the Will was drawn up.
Assuming that the file still exists, it is usually a relatively straight forward business to obtain either a copy of it from the solicitor who prepared the Will or information from that solicitor about the steps they took to satisfy himself that the testator had capacity and that is often the best starting point.
When my relative made their Will I believe they were unfairly persuaded to cut me out. Is there anything I can do about that?
It is possible to challenge a Will on the basis that the person that made it was subjected to some form of undue influence at the relevant time. For example there was a case in 2007 of a frail and vulnerable lady who was frightened of one of her sons. In the period before she made a new Will that son deliberately poisoned her mind by making deliberately untruthful accusations against her other son and his wife so that she left them nothing in her Will. The Will was successfully challenged and set aside.
In order to succeed with such a claim it is necessary to have concrete evidence of undue influence and that can be hard to obtain but nonetheless it is one of the grounds on which Wills are frequently challenged.
My parent left everything to my sibling and nothing to me. Do I have a claim?
Maybe. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 gives certain family members the right to challenge a Will on the basis that it fails to make reasonable financial provision for them. Each case depends on its own facts and it is difficult to lay down hard and fast rules. If you think you might have a claim then it is best to take professional advice as soon as possible because you only have 6 months from the date of the Grant of Representation to the Estate in which to bring the claim.
The good news about claims under the 1975 Act is that if they have some merit it is likely they will settle without the parties having to go to Court.
Broadly speaking the following are eligible to bring a claim under the 1975 Act:-
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