New case about time limits for challenging a will

Jan Samuel

In the recent case of Cowan v Foreman & Others, a High Court Judge issue a stern warning to claimants issuing applications under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to adhere to the six month time limit set down in the Act. The 1975 Act provides that any claim under the Act must be issued within six months of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

The case involved a widow who issued a claim against her late husband’s estate seventeen months out of time. The claimant argued that she was not made aware of the six month time limit. Permission for the claimant to make the application out of time was denied on the basis that she had virtually no prospects of success at trial and there was no good reason for the delay in making the application out of time.

Mr Justice Mostyn made clear that in the absence of  highly exceptional factors, the court will look unfavourably on such a late application, and said that the limit of excusable delay “should be measured in weeks or at most a few months”.

The Judge also commented on the parties' suggestion of a “standstill agreement” allowing time for an extension stating that it was for the court to decide on acceptable time periods in an inheritance claim not the parties. He further stated that time limits existed in inheritance claims to ensure the administration of estates and to avoid the stress and expense of litigation. He further stated “the time limit must be there to protect beneficiaries from being vexed by stale claims whether or not the estate has been distributed. Similarly the time limit must be there to spare the court being burdened with stale claims which should have been brought earlier”.

Samuels Solicitors have been assisting clients with disputes about wills and inheritance for many decades.  If you think you may have a claim in relation to a will, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team who will be to discuss the matter further with you.