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The Doorway Is Widened As To Who Can Make A Probate Claim


Posted on 19 Aug 2016

Randall v Randall was an “interesting” case in the High Court in May which has recently hit the law reports. Interesting in that the Court examined what it means to have an interest in an estate and therefore be able to bring a probate case against the estate.

Mr and Mrs Randall, a divorced couple had agreed in their divorce settlement that if Mrs Randall ever inherited more than £100,000 from her mother they would divide the balance equally.

Mrs Randall’s mother passed away leaving her with the said £100,000 and the rest of her estate of around £150,000 to her grandchildren. Mr Randall, bereft of his £75,000 sought to challenge Mrs Randall’s mother’s Will.

The first court who heard the case said that Mr Randall did not have an immediate interest in his mother-in-law’s estate. The legal rule is that a probate claimant must have a legal “interest” in an estate and that there was a difference between someone with an interest in an estate and a person who was ‘interested’ in the estate.

On the basis that Mr Randall was not an immediate beneficiary of his mother in law’s estate but instead one step removed as someone to whom Mrs Randall owed money, the court in the first instance said that he could not bring a probate claim. It went further to say that there was no route by which the Will could be challenged by Mr Randall.

This left Mr Randall with nowhere to go but to appeal that decision and so the Court of Appeal considered the matter. They put aside the question of how close an ‘interest’ Mr Randall had in the estate; they looked instead at whether from a procedural point of view, Mr Randall should be allowed to bring a claim.

The Court of Appeal concluded that Mr Randall should be allowed to challenge his mother in law’s Will. They felt that “justice in the general sense requires H to be able to bring his probate claim to set aside the will”.

So, hurrah for justice! But…hang on, what about certainty; being able to decide who receives your inheritance?

Currently lawyers would recommend that if you know who you want to leave out of your Will that you say that in the Will or at the very least in a side letter. If that disinherited beneficiary could have a claim on the estate then even leave them a small amount so it could not be said later that you have made no reasonable provision.

But how can you plan for challenges from your beneficiaries’ creditors, you would not know who these are?

And so, this case widens the doorway to both genuine but also opportunistic claimants making a claim on estates where their connection to the deceased is rather indirect.

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