If you feel that you have been unjustly denied an inheritance, you should get in touch with a solicitor straight away. The dangers of delay were made plain by a case in which foot-dragging led to the sacrifice of a possible six-figure legacy.
The case concerned a man who died suddenly at the age of 50. His widow, whom he married just five months previously, obtained letters of administration on the basis of her sworn deposition that he was domiciled in England and Wales and died without making a will. The bulk of his estate, which was valued at almost £500,000, was thereafter distributed to her.
A decade later, the man's brother launched proceedings with a view to revoking the letters of administration. He was the sole beneficiary of a will that the man had made prior to his marriage. His ultimate objective was to recover the estate from the widow so that it could be distributed to him in accordance with the will.
He contended that the man was in fact domiciled in Scotland when he both married and died and that his widow had knowingly made a false deposition in order to obtain the letters of administration. He pointed out that, unlike in England and Wales, under Scottish law a will is not revoked by a subsequent marriage.
Ruling on the case, the High Court noted that the man had drafted a new will around the time of his marriage by which he intended to leave most of his estate to his wife. However, he died before he could sign the document. The Court found that, following his death, his brother initially told his widow that he wanted nothing from the estate and that she should have all of it. Only subsequently did he change his mind.
The widow, the Court ruled, was guilty of no impropriety, either in her making of the deposition or in administering the estate. She was open and transparent in her dealings and acted on professional advice that the will was invalid and that her husband had, throughout his life, probably been domiciled in England and Wales, where he was born.
In dismissing the brother's claim, the Court found that his delay in prosecuting the matter was both gross and inexcusable. The estate had long ago been distributed and the widow had sought to rebuild her life around her inheritance. She would suffer significant financial prejudice, and be forced to relive painful memories, were the brother permitted to proceed with his case. It would be unconscionable, at this late stage, for him to recover from the widow any of the estate's assets.