The Importance of Seeking Expert Legal Advice

4th March 2020 Will Disputes

Contentious Probate is an area of law that involves disputes concerning the estate of someone who has passed away. Disputes can arise for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Disputes regarding the validity of a Will;
  • Disputes over the value of assets within the Deceased’s estate;
  • Disagreements between beneficiaries and executors of a Will; and
  • Concerns regarding an executor’s conduct and whether they are acting in line with their duties.

Contentious Probate is a specialist area of law that requires in depth, expert knowledge. Whilst there are many law firms that assist with drafting Wills and the administration of estates of individuals who have passed away, it is important to note that where a dispute arises over the estate of someone who has passed away, this constitutes a separate and distinct area of law which has its own rules and procedures.

Therefore it would not be appropriate to instruct a Private Client solicitor or a commercial litigator to assist with your matter if they do not specialise in the area of Contentious Probate as they would be unfamiliar with the rules and procedures that are specific to this area of litigation. If you are seeking legal assistance with a contentious dispute over the estate of someone who has passed away, it is important to make sure that you are seeking specialised legal advice from professionals who are experienced in this area.

As an example of what can happen when parties who are unfamiliar with Contentious Probate matters fail to seek specialist advice  in recent news, a solicitor who was the head of a Private Client department was struck off for acting dishonestly in making misleading statements to beneficiaries. This occurred following a dispute between two executors concerning the estate assets, one of whom was a client of the solicitor in question. Despite the fact that this solicitor did not specialise in Contentious Probate, he did not refer the matter elsewhere and proceeded to act for his client in relation to this dispute without consulting specialists. Unfortunately, the solicitor ended up providing false information to the beneficiaries of the estate as to the progress of an application, describing himself as “out of his depth on this particular case”. Ultimately the solicitor’s conduct was referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and he was struck off the roll of solicitors.

The above is an example of how a competent and well respected solicitor can struggle and find themselves in unfamiliar territory if they take on Contentious Probate matters where they do not have the specialist knowledge of these types of proceedings. Whilst the solicitor’s conduct in this matter was not malicious, it still resulted in him being struck off.

If you are involved in a dispute regarding the estate of someone who has passed away, it is important that you instruct specialist legal assistance to ensure that you receive appropriate legal advice and assistance. At JMW, there is a Contentious Probate department which deals with disputes of this nature, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss how we can be off assistance.

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Ian Johnston is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchester in our Will and Trust Disputes department

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