Media Hub

The funny business of contested wills
18 Oct 2021

A High Court battle over the will of the late Monty Python star Terry Jones highlights some interesting legal points about estate claims.

Here, Angie Manley, our disputed probate expert at FBC Manby Bowdler looks at the finer points of the case being heard and gives her advice on what to consider before contesting a will:

The media has reported that the adult children from Terry Jones’ first marriage, Bill and Sally, are taking legal action to stake a claim to their late father’s estate. It is reported that they are claiming, amongst other things, that their father could not have made a valid will in 2016 because he lacked the necessary mental capacity to do so.

They are also reportedly bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 for reasonable provision from the estate.

The two claims are entirely separate, and it will need careful expert legal analysis before a decision can be made on which path to proceed.

Proving mental capacity

Proving mental capacity – or lack of it – is complex and specific to each case, and to the precise time surrounding the making and execution of a will.

Under English law, on marriage, all previous wills of the couple become void. At the date of his marriage to Anna Soderstrom, Terry had no valid will until he made another will in 2016.

If Bill and Sally are able to prove that their father’s will is invalid on the grounds of a lack of mental capacity on Terry’s part (as they claim he was suffering from dementia at the time) then he will have died intestate.  Whether any part of his estate then passes to the children - including Bill and Sally - then depends on how large the estate is.

Under this claim, the key questions the court will be asking will be around what property passed by survivorship and what passes into the estate. So Bill and Sally may still get nothing, in which case this type of claim to the estate would do them no good whatsoever.

Using the Inheritance Act 1975

The other option for Bill and Sally is a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 but again, this is not a straightforward task.

Using this law, Bill and Sally can bring a claim for reasonable financial provision, which is defined as being the provision that would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his or her maintenance.

Claims for adult children have a chequered history in the courts and need careful consideration before the merits of such an approach can be evaluated. In the case of Terry Jones’ estate, some points to consider would be:

  •  Were Bill and Sally able to look after themselves before Terry died, without assistance from their elderly father?
  • What competing claims are there? In this case both Terry’s wife Anna and their young daughter will need to be properly provided for.
  • Had Bill and Sally been supported to any degree by Terry before he died?
  • Were they in financial difficulty or already in comfortable circumstances?
  • Were they estranged from their father, or was there a continuous loving relationship?
  • Did Terry leave any explanation as to why he had not provided for his children?
  • What time period had passed since the Grant of probate had been obtained?

Once these questions have been addressed, it can be established whether Bill and Sally have a reasonable claim to Terry’s estate using the Inheritance Act.

There’s so many things to consider before committing to bringing an estate claim. Our advice? In the words of the Pythons, “don’t be silly chumps” and get in touch with an expert in disputed probate for sound counsel on your options before proceeding.

If you need further advice, please get in touch with Angie on 01902 392448 or email angie.manley@fbcmb.co.uk.

Meet Angie Manley