The probate process can be complicated, stressful and protracted; with the time it takes to complete the administration largely dependent on the size and complexity of the estate. However, in cases where there may be doubts about the integrity or legality of a Will or how the process is being handled, things can quickly become even more fraught.
Losing a family member or other loved one is an inherently emotional time and, for many, this can lead to feelings of extreme reticence when dealing with the deceased's affairs, even when there might be strong grounds for challenging probate. Fortunately, with the help of an experienced and sensitive contested probate solicitor to provide advice and guidance, challenging probate need not be an insurmountable task.
Blame is seldom a useful emotional response. Yes, it can be used to apportion responsibility and to mete out accountability for certain criminal actions, but within the context of relationships and, specifically, marriage and divorce, it serves little to no practical purpose, can be counterproductive and furthermore, when children are involved, is only likely to increase the impact of emotional trauma.
The futility of the blame game is just one reason why it is such a relief to learn that the government will be changing divorce laws in England and Wales to ensure that no divorcing spouse will ever again have to prove their partner is at fault because of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.
It will also end the absurd two-year stasis (stipulated time of separation as one of the Five Facts) faced by many couples whose marriages have proved unworkable but who don't wish to apportion blame; five years in the case of couples where one spouse opposes the divorce.
In 2019 insurance company Direct Line released details of a survey which claimed that as many as one in four of us would be prepared to dispute a Will or contest probate.
The survey, carried out in July 2018 across the UK, found that residents of Southampton, Norwich and London were the most likely to contest probate or dispute a Will in the event they were unhappy.
Furthermore, the insurer outlined how in 2017 there was a six percent rise in the number of contested probate claims and how the number of such cases reaching the High Court had reached a record high. In fact, the same year saw 8,000 attempts to block Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration because of some issue regarding the validity of a Will.
It would be tempting to simplify the government's description of the new probate charges as a 'fee' rather than a 'tax' as being a clear example of a misnomer. But this would fail to address the basic problem with this choice of words and by failing to admit, at least publicly, that the new fee scheme is a tax, the government is entering dangerous or perhaps even Orwellian territory.
There is nothing trifling about death and taxes, and the government knows this; after all, the new fee regime is predicted to raise around £155 million a year for the court coffers. But, perhaps the worst of this is that it goes against the very basic ethos of the conservative party and it is, in fact, more akin to socialist wealth redistribution. One is tempted to wonder whether the government fails to know its own mind or is simply in danger of evading the truth.
The very nature of the living means that contentious probate cases will continue to be a feature of the legal landscape year on year. As more and more individuals decide to challenge the Wills of relatives and loved ones, we can certainly learn from the what goes before. In 2018 there were a number of significant cases of contested probate which found their way into the courts.
In fact, the number of cases involving a challenge to a Will are both too numerous and too complex for full consideration here. However, by reviewing a select trio of the contentious probate claims to hit the courts in 2018, it is possible to alight on some useful nuggets of advice to help any person who is about to embark on the process of writing a Will, comparing probate solicitors, finding a fixed fee probate service or indeed pursuing any other area of law related to Wills, probate, and estate administration.