A grieving family files into a wood-panelled office and are greeted by a grim-faced lawyer. The lawyer carefully reaches into a manila envelope and produces a Will. He takes a deep breath and slowly begins to read the Will aloud only to be met with shocked gasps moments before a full-scale family argument breaks out.
Scenes like this one are a common trope in lots of films and television series. The 2019 film, Knives Out, starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans, includes a scene with a greedy family gathering to learn about the contents of their recently-departed father’s Will only to hear that he has left his entire fortune to his hard-working (and much more deserving) nurse.
While it serves a dramatic purpose in getting all of the main characters together in the same room, the concept of a “Will reading” is a Hollywood myth. Solicitors never insist on families being gathered together so that a Will can be read out to them, and most beneficiaries will learn what gifts have been left to them when they receive a letter in the post.
So, if film and television writers get this wrong, then what other probate myths can we bust?
Jarndyce v Jarndyce
The Charles Dickens novel, Bleak House features a fictional probate case, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which has dragged on for decades and become so complex that no one, especially the legal minds wrangling over it in Court, can begin to understand or untangle it.
The made-up case is meant to sound absurd, but it feeds the myth that probate is overly complicated and takes lots of time. However, solicitors, such as our expert Wills and Probate team, are more than happy to explain the probate process in simple terms. Our team speak to clients at the outset of a matter and take care to find out what aspects of probate clients want help with before explaining how long it is likely to take.
A Will cannot be contested
In the film mentioned above, Knives Out, a disinherited family uses all manner of unscrupulous tactics to try and win back their father’s fortune from the nurse who has inherited it.
There is a common misconception that a Will is final, and cannot be challenged. However, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (usually abbreviated to IPFDA) allows several “classes” of people, such as a child or spouse or civil partner, to make a claim against an estate under certain circumstances. For example, a child could make a claim if they can prove adequate provision was not made for them.
Such claims have to be brought within six months of the date of the Grant of Probate, or Grant of Letters of Administration in cases where there is no Will.
The Court would take a number of factors into consideration, including the value of the estate and the financial needs of the person bringing the claim before making its decision.
Whether the fictional family in Knives Out could make a claim is up for debate though, and given their antics in the film the more important question is whether they would deserve anything.
How Nelsons can help
If you would like help or advice drafting a Will or with the probate process, please contact Michael or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.Contact us