Contentious Probate

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The recent case of Shapton v Seviour illustrated that claimants seeking to bring claims against estates are not guaranteed to succeed, and where such claims do fail the consequences for the unsuccessful claimant can be significant.

In the case of Shapton, the claimant was an adult child of the deceased, who later remarried and had two more children with his second wife.

In his Will the deceased left his entire estate to his widow.  The joint Wills that the deceased and his widow had prepared also made provision for each of the deceased’s four children to benefit equally from the estate upon the second death (i.e. that of the widow).

Following the death of the deceased his estate passed to his widow, however a claim was brought against the estate by one of the deceased’s children from his first marriage, seeking reasonable financial provision from the estate under the provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.  That Act allows certain qualifying claimants to bring an action against an estate where they were financially dependent upon the deceased during their lifetime, but have not been left reasonable financial provision under the deceased’s Will (or the Rules of Intestacy if no Will was left).

Judgment in the case was delivered in April 2020, with the presiding Judge describing the case as “Absolutely hopeless” and one which “Never stood a reasonable prospect of success”.

Not only then did the unsuccessful claimant fail in her claim, but she was also left facing a significant order for costs made in favour of the estate which was forced to defend the claim.

In deciding the case the Judge took into account a number of factors including that:-

  • The value of the estate was relatively modest (£268,000.00 of which 80% was tied up in the marital home).
  • The claimant had a good income and was living a comfortable life at the time of the deceased’s death.
  • The defendant, by contrast, had significant health needs and was reliant on State benefits meaning she would need every penny from the estate to live out her remaining years.

The case illustrates that contentious probate claims have no guarantee of success, and that the implications of failing to succeed can be drastic.  Legal commentary following the case has highlighted that all too often claimants pursue such cases on the assumption that either the estate will “settle” or that the Court will have sympathy and find that some award should be made in their favour.  Claimants can often be encouraged to pursue such claims given the availability of funding agreements such as no win/no fee arrangements which limit the costs that would need to be paid to the claimant’s own solicitor.  However, such an agreement would not protect the claimant against an adverse costs order in the event of the claim failing.

At Hewitts we have a specialist team experienced in bringing and defending claims against estates.  If you have any questions or require our assistance please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team.

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