Time limit for contesting a Will

We are often asked, 'what is the time limit for contesting a will?'

Legal time limits are notoriously complicated. While general guidelines can be given the law is so complex and there are so many exceptions to the general rule that the safest course of action is usually to seek professional legal advice from a specialist lawyer on the specific facts of the case as early as you can.

Time limits for contesting a Will on the grounds of invalidity are more generous and less precise than the time limit for making an Inheritance Act claim

The time limit for contesting a Will by making an Inheritance Act claim is 6 months from the date of probate, so that does not leave claimants very much time to mount their challenge. Our advice is therefore to act as quickly as possible and speak to a contested Will solicitor as soon as you can.

However, even the 6 month time limit is not absolute. The court does have the discretion to vary it in certain circumstances and allow later claims outside the general time limit for contesting a Will.

Claimants should not rely on the court exercising this discretion. If you act quickly then you will not be at risk of being out of time, as happened in the case of Mary Sargent who was refused permission to bring her Inheritance Act claim out of time.

Background to Mary's claim

Joe Sargent's Will left most of his assets in a discretionary trust, the beneficiaries of which were Mary (his wife), Jane (Joe and Mary’s daughter) and Jane’s descendants.  

The estate was said to be worth close to £8 million.

Joe also left a letter of wishes stating that he wanted Mary to be fully provided for and not to want for anything.

However Mary argued that the income produced by the trust was insufficient for her needs and didn't achieve waht her husband had intended. 

Altough Joe had died in 2005 Mary didn't take legal advice until 2016. And when she issued court proceedings the Defendants said she was out of time.

The legal arguments

Mary accepted she was about ten years out of time to bring her Inheritance Act claim and would therefore need the Court’s permission to make the claim.

She argued that she hadn't understood the effect of the Will  and said that the time limit should not apply to her as she was entitled to proper financial provision as her late husband had wished.

The outcome

The court refused to exercise its discretion, declaring that Mary was out of time for bringing her Inheritance Act claim. 

The judge felt that Mary was aware of the terms of the trust at a much earlier date and she should therefore have acted more quickly if she wished to contest the Will.

This case underlines the need for anyone who is intending to contest a Will to act quickly and seek specialist legal advice as soon as they can.

If you are uncertain about the time limit for contesting a will and want to know where you stand then call our free legal helpline today on 0808 139 1596 or send us an email.