News | January 11, 2024

Disputes Digest – When Delay leads to Disaster

In her regular column, Private Client Disputes associate Helena Taylor looks at common scenarios the team encounter, how they can arise and be avoided, and what to do should they happen to you.

At the outset of any legal matter, it is vital to consider the applicable time period in which any legal proceedings must be brought (known as the “limitation period”). This is particularly the case in contentious probate matters.

It is often assumed that contentious probate claims can be brought many months or years after the death. The courts have the power, however, to dismiss probate claims on the basis of a long delay. Additionally, depending on the type of claim, the relevant time limit could be as little as six months.

For example, where a spouse, family member or dependant has been excluded from a Will and brings a legal claim for reasonable financial provision, this must be made within six months of the date of the grant of probate. If a claimant seeks to bring a claim outside of this period, permission from the court will be required. The same time limit applies to claims for rectification of a Will.

In circumstances where a person has not yet received their inheritance from an estate, there is a more generous limitation period. A claim for this must be brought within 12 years from the date the right to receive the inheritance arose. If a person is seeking to recover interest that has accrued on a legacy, this time limit reduces to six years.

There is no specified time limit for challenges against the validity of a Will. Claimants should be mindful, however, of the doctrine of laches. If this defence is raised and it can be shown there was an unjustifiable delay in bringing the claim, the court may be able to bar the claim in its entirety.

The above serves as a reminder that delays in contentious probate claims can be detrimental. If contemplating a claim, specialist legal advice should be sought at the earliest opportunity.