Recently, in the case of Cowan v Foreman & Ors a widow has been refused permission to claim against the estate of her late husband after filing her application nearly 17 months out of time. This judgment made clear that the court would look unfavourably on such a late application in the absence of highly exceptional factors.
It was noted by the judge that excusable delays should be ‘measured in weeks, or at most a few months’, and in this case, there were no highly exceptional factors for the excessive delay in bringing the claim. Notably, it was considered that not being made aware of the six-month time limit for applications set out in the Inheritance Act 1975 was not reason enough for Mostyn J to use his discretion.
Strict time limits exist in inheritance claims to both ensure the administration of estates and to assist in avoiding the stress and expense of litigation for the beneficiaries, the court and the claimants. As such, it is essential to ensure you are instructing a professional with a great deal of knowledge and experience within this area of law. A way of identifying such a professional is by ascertaining whether they are a member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Solicitors (ACTAPS). Recognised specialists will spend a sizeable proportion of their time dealing with inheritance disputes making them your ideal candidate when confronted with these types of circumstances.
Unfortunately, in this case, the claimant had not grasped the structure and disposition of the will of her late husband, which placed most of his assets into two trusts. Probate was granted to the trusts in December 2016, meaning that the period in which to make an application expired in June 2017, some 17 months before the application was made in 8 November 2018.
Within his judgement, Mostyn J cast doubts over the suggestion of a ‘stand-still’ agreement between the parties to extend the time limit, despite the claimant’s lawyers suggesting this was common practice. He insisted it was for the court, not the parties, to decide on acceptable time periods in an inheritance claim. Mostyn J further noted that in no future case should any privately agreed moratorium ever count as ‘stopping the clock’ on the accrual of a delay. He ultimately concluded that the claimant had virtually no prospect of success should her claim be allowed to go to trial and there were no good reasons for her delay. As such, permission for the application was denied.
If you or a member of your family needs advice in relation to an inheritance dispute please contact Mark Ridley who is a proud member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Solicitors.
This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.