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The 5 most common causes of Wills disputes

28th March 2024 by Rob Kelly

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Over recent years, the courts have reported an increase in cases brought after a dispute has arisen over a Will. We look at some of the most common causes of Wills disputes.

Wills disputes can be very damaging, with legal costs draining an estate of funds and arguments causing lasting family rifts. The best way to avoid a Will dispute is to put a professionally drafted Will in place and, where possible, to talk through what you want to happen to your estate with your loved ones.

Official figures show a rise in court action related to Wills. Some of the most common reasons are:

The Will has not been correctly executed

It is essential that Wills are properly executed, or they are likely to be invalid. The person making the Will, known as the testator, must sign and two witnesses must also sign to confirm that they have seen the testator’s signature.

The witnesses do not need to read the contents, but they must be aware that it is the testator’s Will. They need to sign together in each other’s presence and in the presence of the testator and add their names, addresses and occupations.

Nothing should be added or attached to the Will and no additional writing made on it.

The Will is ambiguous

If a Will has been poorly drafted and it is unclear or ambiguous, there is increased scope for a disagreement to arise. Family members may have different opinions as to what the testator wanted to happen, and the situation can degenerate quickly at a time when emotions are likely to be heightened.

The testator did not know and approve the Will or did not have the mental capacity to make it

If the testator did not understand what they were signing or they were not fully aware of the contents of their Will or the extent of their assets, then it can be challenged . To make a valid Will, someone must:

  • Understand what a Will is and the effect of it .
  • Understand the extent of their estate.
  • Be capable of considering claims that they ought to have regard to
  • Not have a disorder of the mind that disrupts their sense of what is right or stops them from exercising their understanding in making a Will.

If there is likely to be any question over someone’s mental capacity when making a Will, then a medical professional can speak with the testator before they sign to assess their understanding and certify that they are able to make a valid Will.

The person making the Will was unduly influenced by someone

A testator should not be unduly influenced by someone into making a Will in their favour. If undue influence can be proved, with the court satisfied that the testator would not have made the Will in the terms they did but for the undue influence, then a Will is invalid. In deciding when someone has been unduly influenced, the court will look at issues such as the relationship the testator had with the individual accused of influencing them, any evidence of pressuring or bullying and any suspicious activity relating to the making of the Will.

Disappointed beneficiaries

If someone is left out of the Will, they may decide to make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Known as an Inheritance Act claim, this type of case can be brought by:

  • The deceased’s spouse or civil partner, provided they have not remarried or entered into another civil partnership.
  • A child of the deceased
  • Anyone the deceased treated as a child of the family.
  • A cohabitee of the deceased who lived with them in a relationship for at least two years immediately prior to their death.
  • Anyone whom the deceased supported financially immediately before their death.

A legal claim can be made for reasonable financial provision for their maintenance or, in the case of a spouse or civil partner, financial provision that it would be reasonable to provide in the circumstances.

Avoiding Wills disputes

The executors of a Will have a duty to protect the estate for the deceased’s beneficiaries. This means that they are bound to defend legal action. This can be expensive for the estate, leaving less money for the beneficiaries.

Having your Will prepared  up by an experienced lawyer means that your executors have the best possible chance of avoiding a court case. The  lawyer will be able to identify any potential issues and take steps to avoid misunderstandings and disagreements in the future.

Contact us

If you would like more information about Wills please call the private client team on 01202 377984 or email If you would like to discuss a contentious Will you can contact Rob in our Dispute Resolution team on 01202 377871 or email

Rob Kelly

Senior Associate Solicitor — Dispute Resolution

Direct dial: 01202 377871


Rob Kelly
  • “Rob Kelly has been absolutely exceptional in resolving this litigation and so thorough in everything and basically gave the opposition a masterclass of his work that he is so good at.”

    Paul Jeffcoate - Contentious Probate Client

  • “I have had the pleasure of working with several members of the team at Laceys regularly over a period of years. I found Rob Kelly in particular, who worked on a successful litigation case for me over a period of several years to be outstanding in all aspects of the work he undertook, and the manner in which he did it. I now consider him a friend. I would not - and have not - hesitated to recommend Laceys to my family and friends, and continue to use them for all legal matters.”

    Dan Collins

  • “ I just wanted to thank you for your great work on the professional negligence case and other cases you have represented Indian Ocean and Tiien through the last few years.”

    Mehdi Vahdati, Director and Proprietor - Indian Ocean (Bournemouth) Limited

  • “A case that was initially very straightforward became difficult and, for me, very frustrating. Rob Kelly's calm, lucid and very professional advice and planning were invaluable and led to a good outcome.”

    Don Young

  • “Their Fee Management was exemplary and the expertise provided by Rob was exactly what we required.”

    Sunseeker London Limited

  • “I've worked with a fair few lawyers over the years and Rob Kelly is the most on the ball and efficient lawyers I've ever come across. I'm looking forward to working together for many years to come.”

    Roger Woodall CEO - Diamond Sporting Group

Rob practices in two main, complimentary areas of work – contentious wills, probate and trust disputes, and property disputes.

Contentious wills, probate and trusts

More than half of Rob’s time is spent dealing with the contentious aspects of wills, probate and trusts, an area in which he has practiced continuously for over 20 years.  He advises and acts in disputes relating to wills and inheritance, trusts, the duties of trustees and personal representatives, and the administration of estate.

Rob’s practice embraces:

  • Personal representative and trustee disputes (including personal representative and trustee disagreements, removals / substitutions and alleged misconduct)
  • Disappointed beneficiary claims
  • Will disputes (where the validity of a will is challenged on the grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, lack of knowledge and approval of the contents of a will, and fraudulent calumny)
  • Financial provision claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • Proprietary estoppel claims
  • Disputes about the proper construction, and rectification, of wills
  • Caveats
  • Professional liability claims arising from the preparation of wills and trusts and the administration of estates

He has mediated (either as appointed mediator or as a representative) dozens of disputes involving contentious wills and probate issues.

Property disputes

The other side of Rob’s practice is contentious property work.  This embraces:

  • Residential and commercial landlord and tenant disputes
  • Disrepairs
  • Repairing covenants
  • Possession claims
  • Lease termination and lease forfeiture
  • Dilapidations
  • Service charge disputes
  • Interpretation and enforcement of leasehold covenants

Rob’s style is a mix of listening, asking (tough) questions, diplomacy and reality testing. He’s interested, flexible, and pragmatic. He offers a common sense, realistic approach to assist his clients in searching for solutions to their disputes and brings straight talking and integrity to his work.

Rob is a Solicitor. He successfully completed training as a mediator under the ADR Chambers / Harvard Law Project Scheme in June 2006 and is a member of the Civil Mediation Council.

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