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Advice for you

What happens if someone dies without leaving a will?

If this happens to one of your relatives, it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible, because the law sets out who should then inherit their estate (their money, property and possessions).

Usually, a close relative like a spouse, parent or child has the right to deal with the estate of the person who has died. They are referred to as an ‘administrator’ - the person who deals with the estate if there’s no will.

You can usually apply for a grant of representation to be the administrator of the estate if you’re the person’s next of kin, for example their husband, wife, civil partner or child.

How do you value the estate of someone who's died?

You need values of any money, property and possessions (known as their estate) of someone who’s died, on the date of their death, before you are able to get a ‘grant of representation’. This is the legal right to deal with their estate.

You also use your valuations to work out if inheritance tax must be paid on the estate.

You’ll need details of all the person’s assets and debts when they died - plus any assets they gave away before they died (known as ‘gifts’) and also any assets they held jointly with someone else.

An asset is anything the person owned with a value which could be sold.

What are the steps involved in valuing an estate?

  1. Find out the value of assets and any gifts that were made in the last seven years.
  2. Add up assets and gifts, then take away any debts or loans they had.
  3. Use the total to ascertain if inheritance tax must be paid - there usually is if the estate’s value is more than £325,000.
  4. Fill in the correct inheritance tax forms - use the forms to deduct anything that’s exempt from inheritance tax and then work out the tax bill. You have six months to complete this from the date of their death if there is inheritance tax to pay.
  5. Send the forms when you apply for a grant of representation.
  6. It is important to keep records of all of the above.

Can you contest a will?

The answer to this question is yes, if there are grounds to do so. 

Whilst someone’s wishes upon their death are of paramount importance, the courts do consider the needs of others known to the deceased who may be disappointed by the contents of the will.  It may therefore be possible to make a claim for financial provision from the estate of the deceased. 

In addition to this, there may be concerns as to the contents or the circumstances surrounding the making of the will, which invalidates it.

What are the grounds for contesting a will?

Grounds for contesting a will due to validity

The other grounds the court will consider when looking at whether a will is valid include:

  • Mistake or error in the drafting of the will.
  • If there is evidence that any pressure was placed on the person making the will as to its contents. Do you have suspicions regarding the contents or making of the will?
  • Doubts as to the will makers mental capacity or their understanding of the contents of their will or their assets at the time they made their will.
  • Proprietary estoppel.  Have you been promised an inheritance, acted to your detriment as a result of that promise and then found out that you have been left nothing from the estate?
  • The will has not been signed properly or there were not the required number of witnesses present.

How do I contest a will?

If we consider that there are sufficient grounds to dispute the validity of a will then we would initially look to settle the claim through correspondence and mediation. 

If this is not possible, as a last resort, it would be necessary to commence court proceedings.  We can consider various payment options when dealing with disputed will cases including deferring payment until the outcome of the case where the merits allow.

Disputing a will is never easy as we understand that you are grieving a loved one and embarking on litigation.  Our team are sympathetic to the circumstances surrounding these types of dispute and can guide you through these stressful times.

Can Ex-spouses Claim Against Estates?

Yes, if the ex-spouse has not remarried or formed a new civil partnership, and the parties have failed to reach a formal financial settlement order or achieved a clean break, an ex-spouse could make a claim against the Deceased’s estate for reasonable financial provision pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. 

Such a claim would have to be brought within 6 months of the Grant of Probate being issued.  A financial settlement will usually contain a clause preventing future claims against the estate of the other party, therefore if such settlement has not been achieved it is likely they can claim.

Read more here.


The two inescapable certainties are “death and taxes” which inevitably means when a loved one dies not only is there the emotional side of things to cope with but also the significant and onerous formality of obtaining a grant of representation before the estate can be dealt with.


The Private Client Team at Frettens consists of solicitors and legal executives, and includes a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, a member of Solicitors for the Elderly and members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. We are therefore well placed to help on all of the following:

Grants of Representation

At Frettens we can be as involved as much or as little as you wish. That might only be in dealing with the more technical aspects of the estate administration process, namely submitting the inheritance tax papers to HM Revenue & Customs and then making the application for the grant of representation. This will leave you to deal with the collection of the assets, paying off the liabilities and expenses and then distributing the estate in accordance with the Will or in line with the intestacy provisions.

Estate Administration

If we are instructed to deal with all aspects of the estate then we will conclude everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. We will ensure that:

  • there is a full investigation into the assets and liabilities of the estate
  • all inheritance tax reliefs are secured and all liabilities are paid promptly
  • any lifetime income tax and capital gains tax affairs are closed off
  • all administration expenses and legacies are paid
  • any trusts that arise under the terms of the Will are correctly set up
  • a full set of accounts are prepared at the end of the administration
  • distributions are made with the benefit of tax certificates where appropriate.

Click here for our Estate Glossary of the main terms that you will encounter when dealing with an estate.

Deeds of Variation

When administering an estate we always need to understand the beneficiaries’ needs and own tax positions as there are often ways of improving the situation through deeds of variation.

Any fully competent beneficiary, whether under a will or by virtue of the intestacy rules, can redirect part or all of his inheritance, either absolutely or in trust, to others and avoid potential inheritance tax and capital gains tax charges that could otherwise arise.

Estate Dispute Resolution

It is not always the case that wills are written, or estates and trusts are administered, without disputes arising. Our team can advise on:

  • contesting or defending the validity of a Will
  • making or defending an application under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • compelling personal representatives and trustees to undertake their functions correctly
  • defending personal representatives and trustees against actions from disaffected beneficiaries and other parties
  • making or defending proprietary estoppel claims
  • general advice to personal representatives, trustees and beneficiaries regarding their rights and obligations.

Book a Free Appointment

Frettens are pleased to offer a free initial consultation for all new clients. We have always offered this service because we recognise the importance for clients of deciding whether they can work with a particular solicitor and to find out more about the process and likely outcome. Our private client lawyers offer positive, down to earth advice, and we hope that this initial meeting allows you the time to see this as well.

    Contact a member of our Private Client Team to arrange a free initial appointment at either our Christchurch or New Forest office, where you will be able to meet your solicitor with no obligation or charge.