Contentious Probate

Our specialist contentious probate and will dispute solicitors are here to help families and individuals find a fair solution.

Caroline Metcalf, Bishop's Stortford
Caroline Metcalf, Partner and dispute resolution specialist in Bishops Stortford

What is contentious probate?

Contentious probate means any dispute about how a person's estate – that is their money, property or other possessions – is passed on to other people after they die. It includes, but is not limited to, contesting a will and sometimes there is no will – if the dispute involves an intestate estate.

When there is no will, probate matters can feel daunting

When a person dies without a will this is known as intestacy. There are fixed ‘rules of intestacy’ which dictate who gets what in this situation. However, they are inflexible, make no arrangement for unmarried partners or dependents and any verbal promises the person who has died may have made while they were alive, are not taken into account. 

Contesting probate when there is no will

We can help you with a range of issues relating to there being no will including:

  • a partner who was not married to the deceased, who hasn’t been provided for
  • a child or another dependant who hasn’t been provided for
  • when a married partner who is now estranged has inherited – this can sometimes occur if someone dies unexpectedly
  • arguments over who should administer the estate.

Contesting probate includes many different types of disputes. Examples of contentious probate disputes, not limited to the will itself, include:

  • claims for 'further provision' where a person feels they should have been provided for, usually by a spouse, parent, adult child, or someone who was financially dependent on the deceased – under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • trusts – where money and assets have been left in a trust, disputes over the ownership of the assets, which trustees are appointed, how the finances are managed on behalf of the beneficiaries
  • to honour a promise not reflected in the will, for example, where a person has worked on a farm for their lifetime under the promise it would be passed wholly or partly to them
  • to clarify a will's meaning for example, where it is confusing
  • to rectify a will where there is a mistake in the will's content for example, establishing correct ownership of a property
  • lifetime gifts - whether the person who has died was of sound mind at the time the gifts were made
  • challenging the appointment of an executor
  • removing an executor
  • mismanagement by an executor
  • managing disagreements between beneficiaries or between trustees
  • establishing the value of complex assets
  • lost and damaged wills
  • court applications, for example, to produce documentation or retrieve assets which were wrongly given
  • protecting the interests of vulnerable people unable to manage their own affairs
  • professional negligence claims.

Call our specialist solicitors on 0808 231 1320We’re here to help

Estates are sometimes extremely complex, for example, if there are international assets, several properties, blended family arrangements or wealth structures which incorporate trusts. Added to that, it’s often difficult handling the death of someone you know and may be close to and disputes make it so much worse.

We have many years of experience of handling these matters and we aim to keep upset to a minimum where possible. We can help you with disputes whether you are the executor, the beneficiary of the will or you expected to be a beneficiary of the will whether you are making a claim or need to defend one. We work for trustees including individuals, trust companies and other organisations such as charities.

Our team includes members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).


Give us a call for a confidential conversation and let's talk about how we can help. Our specialist wills and probate lawyers are based in:

  • Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
  • Essex: Brentwood, Chelmsford, and Saffron Walden
  • Hertfordshire: Bishop's Stortford and Royston

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

Contentious probate FAQ's

Can I contest a probate?

Yes, but to do so you need to be:

  • a beneficiary under either the current will or a previous will
  • someone who has an entitlement to administer the estate
  • a family member
  • someone owed money by the person who died
  • someone dependent financially on the person who died
  • someone who was promised something that you haven’t received.
Can I contest a probate before it is granted?

Take action quickly and ideally before probate has been granted and the estate distributed. A first step is to enter a caveat with the Probate Registry. The caveat lasts six months (and can be extended for another six months) and prevents probate being granted while the dispute is still unresolved.

Can you contest a will after probate?

Yes. However, it’s preferable to do it before assets have been distributed or disposed of. If you plan to challenge a will, you can get a caveat on the estate first, which prevents probate being issued, thus buying you and your legal adviser more time.

After probate it is important to act as quickly as possible as the assets may already have been distributed.  Additionally, there may be some time limits on a claim: fraud claims have no time limit but claims under the Inheritance Act 1975 are limited to six months from the grant of probate. Time limits are governed by legislation and depend on the type of claim. This is a complex area and you should get expert legal help as soon as possible.

Which court deals with contentious probate?

The High Court. The probate jurisdiction of the High Court is divided between the Family Division and the Chancery Division. The Family Division deals with non-contentious or common form probate business and the Chancery Division deals with contentious or solemn form probate business such as asking the court to approve a will to avoid further dispute.  The Probate Registry deals with issues concerning caveats. 

See what our customers say about us

V. Smyth

Bishop's Stortford

A huge thank you to Caroline. I can't thank you enough. I honestly never thought I would ever see any of my money again. When I told my children last night the first thing they said was "what a wonderful solicitor to have." I'm so very grateful and very happy. You are a real lifesaver.
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