By Alastair Goggins, Partner and Dispute Resolution Team Leader
From time to time we like to share some of the current work we have been instructed on, partly because we hope it is of interest but also as it will sometimes echo problems that others are having themselves.
I’ve been working with number of charity clients on a particularly frustrating matter for some time now. It concerns a large estate with multiple properties. The administration of the estate is by no means straightforward and the various issues have taken some time to reveal themselves.
Under the Deceased’s will, a number of charities are set to inherit the vast majority of the estate. We are now ready to apply for a Grant of Probate. However a relative emerged from the shadows earlier in the year and obtained a Caveat preventing us from obtaining the Grant. A Warning and an Appearance soon followed.
We wrote to the relative and asked them to explain the basis of their claim. We did not receive a substantive response, so I called them to see if it were possible to get an understanding of their complaint. I called them 9 times leaving messages for them to call me back to no avail.
The Caveat remains in place, the relative’s grounds for a claim are still undetermined, the estate is un-administered and my clients are about to shoulder the burden of issuing proceedings to remove the Caveat (which it appears may well have been obtained without any true justification) and prove the will. My clients are still waiting for large sums of money from the estate. Until matters are resolved, their plans on how to put the inheritance to good use remain on hold.
Settling a probate claim is often a complicated business. The reason it is difficult is because an order for a Grant of Probate will give the executor or administrator good title to the deceased’s estate as against the world. Historically such orders were not made by consent. In reality the courts, like the Probate Registry, take a rather inquisitive stance toward the probate of wills.
I shall be seeking a grant in solemn form from the court which does not require the consent of beneficiaries who are not parties to the claim. However, this is effectively still a trial and hence can be both expensive and take time to be heard, depending on the workload of the Judges in the Chancery Division.
The Judge will have to be satisfied on the written evidence (and submissions) that, on the balance of probabilities, the Will is formally valid. Hopefully a resolution can be reached much sooner, although much will depend on the co-operation of the relative which is currently in short supply.
On the whole charities do not get emotionally involved with the process of law, unlike family members who find it hard to come to terms with the wishes of the deceased. When this happens there is an increasing likelihood that costs and delay can follow. That is why it is important for charities to be decisive and take appropriate action to minimise the impact on the estate as a whole by seeking a resolution at the earliest possible stage.