Time limits when contesting a Will

A decision has been reached in the case of Sargeant v Sargeant which has clarified the position for those wishing to apply for further financial provision when a claim of this nature is out of time. 

In this case, Mary Sargeant wished to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act almost 10 years after her husband passed away.  The Act is designed to enable people who feel they have not been left reasonable financial provision to apply to court to have further provisions made available for them.  Ordinarily, claims of this nature must be brought within six months of the date grant of probate of the estate is issued, however there are limited situations where this can be lifted and the claim allowed to be brought.

Sargeant v Sargeant – the facts

Mr Sargeant passed away in 2005, leaving behind Mrs Sargeant, her son Jeff from a previous marriage, who Mr Sargeant had adopted, and their daughter Jane.  Mr Sargeant was a successful farmer and his estate at the time of his death was valued at £3.2milliion which he left in a discretionary trust with Mary, Jane and Jane’s children as beneficiaries.  The grant of probate was issued in March 2006 after which Mary received a salary of £20,400 in addition to funds to cover other expenses. 

Despite being asset rich the estate was cash poor and so years later Mary found herself in financial difficulty.  There was disagreement between Mary and Jane, after which Mary brought Court proceedings in 2016.  As the claim was outside the six month time limit, a special application was needed for the Court to allow the claim.  This was denied for several reasons:

  • Mary’s argument that she did not understand the financial implications of her position as a beneficiary was rejected as she had had every opportunity to seek legal advice.
  • Mary had the facts open to her and she was not misled by the other trustees at any time.
  • There had been no other factors involved in her decision to delay the proceedings and she had continued to work within the parameters of the Will instead of exploring her options.

Avoiding making a claim out of time

This outcome is an unfortunate one for Mrs Sargeant but shows how important it is to seek adequate legal advice at the time of probate administration.  After the death of a loved one, you will of course be experiencing many different emotions and making life changing decisions.  There is a lot to consider and at the time you may not envisage any future financial problems or disputes, however by seeking legal advice you can fully understand the potential future risks, as well as gain a full appreciation of your role as a beneficiary or trustee.

If you would like to discuss bringing a claim against a Will you can contact Kevin Horn on 01329 222027 or email kevinhorn@warnergoodman.co.uk


To speak to one of our experts please call us