Defending a challenge to a will: Case study of a beneficiary who successfully defended a claim against a will
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Mr E contacted us when he was faced with a caveat that had been entered against an estate of which he was a beneficiary. The claimants who entered the caveat alleged that the will was invalid on the basis of lack of capacity, undue influence and want of knowledge and approval.
Naomi Ireson, a Legal 500 recommended lawyer who is experienced in defending challenges to a will, represented Mr E. She pressed the claimants to produce evidence in support of their will challenge. By doing so she established that their evidence was weak and lead us to believe that our client was capable of defending the challenge to the will.
To boost his prospects of successfully defending the case, we collected evidence which showed that the deceased had sufficient mental capacity, was not unduly influenced and knew and approved the terms of her will.
We presented this evidence to the claimants and invited them to withdraw their challenge. The claimants refused to do so, but made no attempt to progress their case. If a caveat remains in force the estate cannot be administered and progress grinds to a halt. This is a common scenario and calls for decisive action to be taken to overcome the stalemate. We therefore issued a summons for a court order requiring the claimants to either remove their caveat or, alternatively, issue a probate claim within six weeks. By obtaining this court order the claimants were forced to either back down or pursue their claim.
Many people facing this choice withdraw their claim. However, these claimants unwisely decided to issue their probate claim in court. We therefore responded on Mr E’s behalf by defending their challenge to the will. When the reality of fully defended legal proceedings hit the claimants they soon realised their challenge was without sufficient legal merit. As a result they discontinued the court action.
Because Mr E had successfully defended a challenge to a will we were able to recover his legal costs from the claimants. In fact we recovered costs on an indemnity basis, which meant that he was entitled to claim back from them every penny he had spent.
This case illustrates how some claimants fail to understand the law when submitting a challenge to a will and in particular the serious legal consequences that can follow if a caveat is issued and not withdrawn. In this instance the costs awarded against the claimants were substantial, though the total would have been significantly higher if they had not come to their senses soon after issuing and had instead pressed on with the challenge all the way to court.
It also underlines the need in certain cases to be robust in defending a challenge to a will and the benefits of forcing a claimant’s hand in relation to what evidence they have to support their case.