Before you contest a will: timescales, costs and risks

Nobody wants to reach a point where they have to consider contesting a will but, unfortunately, many people find themselves in that position each and every year.

It is important to remember that only a relatively small number of people are in a position to make a claim against a will under the Inheritance Act 1975. Usually, only spouses or civil partners, children, parents or siblings are close enough to pursue litigation. However, if you are seeking to contest an earlier will, a much wider group of people are eligible.  

Experienced will dispute solicitors like can help you to decide whether or not you are in a good position to contest a will, and how you can approach it based upon your means. Before you make any decisions however, it’s important to understand what to expect from the process.

The timescale

While there is no time limit for contesting a will except where there is a trust involved, 1975 Act claimants must act within six months of grant of probate. It’s not easy to decide whether or not you’re willing to go to court over the issue, however you must make that decision in a timely manner, or risk losing the opportunity forever.

Even with the most experienced solicitors on your side, contesting a will can take a long time. It’s not only emotionally taxing, but it can begin to represent a significant financial burden.

The costs

The costs of contesting a will vary significantly from one case to the next, but it is imperative that you prepare yourself for the fees to escalate. This is primarily due to the fact that most cases tend to take many months – if not years – to resolve.

As well as paying for fees privately, there are many different ways to fund litigation. Conditional fee agreements (commonly referred to as no win, no fee) tend to prove the most manageable for claimants, but it is also possible for claimants to defer fees, work out an approach with their solicitor proportionate to the funds they have available, or sign a damages-based agreement.

Alternatively, claimants can call upon ‘after the event’ insurance or an existing legal expenses insurance policy, but this is less common.

The risks

Contesting a will is a complex process, and it’s inevitable that there are certain risks involved.

The most obvious risk is, of course, the fact that pursuing litigation could easily cause major (and, at times, irreparable) rifts within your family. This may simply be down to a difference of opinion at a time when emotions are charged; other times, contesting a will may mean leveling certain allegations of manipulation or coercion against someone you know. Reconciling after a family rift is very difficult, particularly if the outcome is not seen as a positive by everyone.

Another risk is that you lose, and in this situation, having a CFA is no guarantee that you will avoid expense altogether. It is possible you could have to pay your opponent’s costs and if the case went to trial, you could be responsible for paying some significant fees.

There is, however, an alternative to litigation. Many disputes can be resolved without going to court, via mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This can circumvent the need for family fall outs, and for hefty court fees but, again, it is vital you leave yourself plenty of time in case matters need to escalate further.