Inheritance disputes and contentious probate

Inheritance disputes often put significant strain on the parties involved no matter what the circumstances may be. Whether the dispute concerns the validity of a will, actions against Trustees, questionable lifetime gifts or any other matter relating to contentious wills and probate, the team at Smith Partnership offer the practical experience you need to ensure the estate is dealt with in a just and effective manner.

If you’re in need of legal expertise with regards to contentious probate, contact our team today.

What Is Contentious Probate?

Contentious probate refers to disputes that arise when administering the estate of a deceased loved one, and there can be many reasons why an estate’s beneficiaries might not see eye to eye. Some of the most common causes of contentious trusts and probate include:

  • Disputes regarding the interpretation or validity of a will
  • Trust disputes, for example regarding the interpretation or validity of a trust deed
  • Disagreement on the way in which the person’s estate is to be distributed or administered
  • Taking action through Court of Protection to protect the interests of someone who lacks the capacity to make a will
  • Claims made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, for example to ensure the estate offers reasonable financial provision to a spouse, former spouse, child or dependant
  • Questionable lifetime gifts

Disputes in relation to trusts and probate are on the rise, and the above list is by no means exhaustive. Although inheritance disputes may well see emotions running high, finding an effective legal resolution is often in the best interests of each of the parties involved.

Challenging or Defending a Will

Wills serve an incredibly important purpose by setting out a person’s wishes regarding the way in which their estate is to be distributed after they have passed. In some cases, however, there may be valid reasons for the will to be challenged. These include situations where:

  • The will relates to a person who lacked the mental capacity to make an informed decision
  • The deceased was unduly influenced when making the will (for example through coercion)
  • The will is a result of forgery
  • A disputed statutory will is in place, for example, if there are doubts on whether it reflects the wishes of the deceased person
  • The contents of the will was not approved by the person it relates to
  • The will does not provide reasonable financial provision as set out in the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

Defending or challenging a will may seem like a complicated and stressful process, but our dedicated contentious trusts and probate team offers the legal expertise needed to fight your corner.

Problems with Estate Administration

Apart from disputes relating to a person’s Will, you may also have concerns about the way an estate is being conducted or administered. Our expertise covers a wide range of issues regarding estate administration, including:

  • The removal or replacement of an Executor who has failed to correctly administer the estate
  • Defending claims against Executors
  • Disputes over deputyship
  • Actions against Trustees
  • Resolving disputes between Beneficiaries and Executors
  • Professional negligence claims

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues listed above, or if you’ve been faced with any other problems associated with contentious estates, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today.

How Much Time Do I Have?

Time limits may apply depending on the circumstances of any probate claims you intend to make. If, for example, you wish to make a claim for reasonable financial provision in line with the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, you will generally be subject to a time limit of 6 months starting from when the Letters of Administration or Grant of Probate was issued.

Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding the contentious probate dispute, it’s advisable to take action as soon as possible. For this reason, the solicitors at Smith Partnership offer an accessible and comprehensive service tailored to your specific needs.

How We Can Help

Contentious probate cases can often be legally complex, so it’s important to seek expert legal advice if you’re involved in a probate dispute. Shouldering the burden and stress that comes with litigation is our main priority, and our experts are able to guide you through every stage of the process.

As one of the East Midlands’ leading law firms, with offices in Derby, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Swadlincote and Burton Upon Trent, we pride ourselves on taking a straight-talking and client-oriented approach to each case. We seek to establish your objectives at the outset, and with that, we focus on plotting a clear and strategic plan of action specific to your case. In doing so, our clients enjoy peace of mind that they have a trusted and experienced legal specialist on their side whenever they need it most.

Don’t just take our word for it...

The team is proud to have been recognised by the Legal 500, which states: 

Associate Victoria Townsend is the key figure at the contentious trusts team at Smith Partnership, where she takes ‘a sensible approach to litigation and settlement’; her fields of expertise; inheritance disputes, contested wills and claims involving property and estates.

A small but dedicated practice with up-and-coming associates who are skilled beyond their PQE. Excellent value for money and with a can-do attitude.

Friendly, professional, efficient and effective in accordance with stated expectations. Without hesitation, I’d recommend the legal services provided by Victoria Townsend.

Made to feel like an old friend that’s reassuring and without hesitation I’d recommend the legal services provided by Victoria Townsend. Outstanding, what more can I say!

The Legal 500, 2023

Contact our team today

To find out how our expert team of solicitors can help you, contact us today on 0330 123 1229, send us an email via or complete our contact form.


This is often one of the most important questions we receive from prospective new clients. If you have no ability to recover your costs, it may dissuade you from making a claim or mounting a challenge.

If you are a claimant, an entitlement to recover costs arises from the point that court proceedings are issued. As a point of principle, your reasonable costs are recoverable if you succeed with your claim. Costs are always at the discretion of the court though, and so there may be occasions when you have succeeded on a claim, or a particular point, but costs have not been awarded.

If you are a personal representative of an estate, provided that you act properly and neutrally, you are entitled to recover your costs from the estate.

If you are a defendant, and are successful in defending the claim, you may be entitled to receive a proportion of your costs.

No-win, no-fee” agreements, as they are often called, are a type of conditional funding agreement (“CFA”). They work like this: a condition of our firm being paid for the work that we have done is that we achieve a success for our client. If we don’t achieve a success, then we don’t get paid for the work that we have done. These types of arrangements will not be suitable for most types of cases. However, and not just with probate-related litigation, but litigation generally, it is important that we find the right funding arrangement that suits our client and the case at hand. We pride ourselves in our approachability, and that extends to talking about the issue of costs. If a CFA is appropriate to your circumstances, we can offer this type of funding arrangement to our clients.

You often hear that some solicitors are unwilling to discuss any new case with you without receiving money on account. Our Contentious Trusts and Probate team are always willing to speak with possible new clients initially, without requiring any financial commitment, or a discussion about lengthy and complex client engagement terms.

It is advisable to first establish whether there are any grounds for challenging the validity of the will, and if the will is capable of being challenged, what does the earlier will say? As a first stage, it is necessary to understand why the testator made the will that they did, which will involve obtaining disclosure of the will file (assuming the will was drafted by a solicitor). If, following a thorough investigation of the will, it appears difficult to challenge, certain categories of people can pursue claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This law permits applicants to seek provision from an estate where they have either been cut out of a will, left a meagre inheritance, or the intestacy rules do not provide for them. This is a complex area of law though, and we always tailor our advice to the unique and particular circumstances of each case. It is therefore not possible to give generic advice in respect of 1975 Act claims.

This is often the first port of call when it comes to challenging or defending the validity of a will on grounds of capacity. The Access to Health Records Act 1990 allows a personal representative of an estate or a person with a claim against an estate to make a written request for medical records. The relevant medical records may be held by a number of different organisations, particularly if the individual was residing in a care home, or was receiving specialist care. Certain organisations may have prescribed forms to complete when obtaining medical records, and some organisations are entitled to charge an administration fee for complying with a request. If you need help in obtaining medical records, please do not hesitate to ask us for assistance with this.

Challenging a will on grounds of validity will commonly involve an inquiry into the deceased’s mental health and capacity at the material time that they gave instructions for the preparation of their will. If the testator was labouring with an illness of the mind (such as dementia) when they made their will, and that illness affected their comprehension and understanding of what they were doing, the extent of their wealth, or who their family members are, then a claim may be brought to challenge the validity of their will.

You should first establish that you are a beneficiary, or you have an interest in the administration of the estate. If you have an interest in an estate, you are entitled to information relating to that estate. This includes the provision of an estate account, which should set out amongst other things the deceased’s assets and liabilities as at their date of death. If you are being refused this information, you may ask the court to come to your assistance, and make an order that the executor must comply with your requests.