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Overview

Once someone passes away, there may be doubts regarding the circumstances or contents of their Will. If they successfully challenge the validity of that Will, the effect will be that it is invalid (void). If this happens, the last previously executed Will or (if the deceased did not execute any previous Wills) the rules of intestacy will come into effect.

The main ways in which someone can challenge the validity of a Will are:

Lack of proper formalities

Under the Wills Act of 1837, for a Will to be valid (or validly executed) it must be:

  • in writing
  • signed by the testator
  • witnessed by two independent witnesses who are present at the same time that the testator signs the Will
Lack of knowledge and approval

A testator must know and approve the contents of his Will for it to be valid.

There will sometimes be suspicious circumstances which ‘excite the suspicion of the court’. Examples of this could include:

  • someone who benefits under the Will is responsible for or involved in its preparation
  • the testator is old and/or suffering from a mental or physical weakness and insufficient care has been taken to ensure that they fully understood the contents/effects of the Will

If the circumstances suggest that the testator did not properly understand or know what they were signing, then the court may find the Will is invalid.

Lack of testamentary capacity (commonly known as mental capacity)

A testator must have ‘testamentary capacity’ in order to validly execute a Will. Effectively, they must be of ‘sound mind’. If a court finds that this is not the case, the court will find that the Will is invalid.

The test for testamentary capacity can be found from the 1870 case of Banks v Goodfellow, which sets out that in order for a person to be deemed to have testamentary capacity, they must:

  • Understand the nature of making a Will and its effects.
  • Understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing.
  • Be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect.
  • Have no “disorder of the mind that perverts his sense of right or prevents the exercise of his natural faculties in disposing of his property by Will”.

The above test requires the testator to have a certain level of understanding, which will vary according to the complexity of the Will itself, the extent of the testator’s assets and the claims the testator/their estate might face.

Undue Influence

Whilst challengers are keen to pursue a claim of this nature, the evidence required is often difficult to obtain as the nature of undue influence is ‘behind closed doors’.

The court requires evidence that the testator executed the Will as a result of:

  • the fear/pressure a third party placed on the testator; or
  • the third party had such a level of influence over the testator that they were not making decisions of their own free will.
Fraud / Forgery

Fraud can include any dishonest behaviour from a third party in order to benefit in some way from the terms of a Will.

There are many examples of fraudulent activity which may lead to a finding from the court that the Will is invalid, such as:

  • Forging the testator’s signature / the Will itself
  • Misleading the testator into signing a document that they do not realise is a Will
  • Destroying a Will without the testator’s knowledge
  • Providing instructions to a solicitor or a professional Will drafter on behalf of the testator without their knowledge or approval (this can extend to pretending to be the testator)

There is also a ground which has not been widely accepted as a separate ground for challenging the validity of a Will, which involves fraudulent activity, called ‘fraudulent calumny’.

This involves a third party poisoning a testator’s mind by making “dishonest aspersions” about another person’s character where that person is / might expect to be a beneficiary under the testator’s Will.

Initial Consultation

If you would like to speak to one of our experts for an initial, no-obligation, consultation to discuss your matter and the options available to you, please send us a message or call 0203 553 7115.

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I would like to thank you for the way in which you dealt with this matter all the way through. Particularly I would express my thanks for your prompt replies to all enquiries that I raised and for keeping me so well informed of the progress of the case.

Natasha Kelt, Litigation

I would like to thank you for a superb job well done. When you have never been in the position I found myself in, it was your calm and confident manner that reassured me you would do your very best. I will have no hesitation in recommending you to anyone who requires legal advice.

Jemmar Attfield, Commercial

We would like to thank you and your team so much for all the help and advice we received and for acting in a courteous and professional manner at all times. Thank you also Lee for patiently addressing all the issues we raised and for explaining everything to us so clearly, sometimes repeatedly, until you were satisfied we fully understood the more complex issues with our Wills; you personally, were highly recommended to us by one of your grateful clients. Likewise, we too would not hesitate to highly recommend you to anybody planning to make a Will.

Lee Hibell, Private Client
I cannot praise you and your team enough for the professional way you handled my situation, you have been so kind and reassuring in what has been a very emotional and distressing time.
Melanie Steeples, Family

I must say her handling of the transaction was first rate and very professional. Always available and she was never afraid to pick up the phone and share information when it was better to communicate that way rather than just email, a blessing in this day and age. Though both parties were keen for a quick exchange she never allowed that pressure to mean she cut any corners with her enquiries and was always working in my best interests.

I will be more than happy to work with her again in the future and will certainly recommend her to friends and associates who require similar services.

Amber Day, Property

Thank you for your prompt and concise response. That certainly makes things very clear and straight forward. Overall thank you for all your help and advice……. Should I need a solicitor in the future I will be sure to call your firm.

Michelle Breindel, Crime & Motoring