When can you challenge a Will? When do you, in the court’s opinion, have a valid to bring a case and challenge the express wishes of the bereaved? That was the question put before the courts in the recent case of Randall v Randall. The answer, according to the Court of Appeal’s latest decision, is when you have ‘sufficient interest’ in the Will to bring a case.
In the case, Colin Randall, a divorced husband, sought permission to challenge the validity of his former mother-in- law’s Will which left him nothing from her estate. The case centred on whether Mr Randall had ‘sufficient interest’ in the Will to allow him to bring a claim alleging that it had been forged in an attempt to defeat an order made in divorce proceedings.
As part of an earlier divorce settlement, his wife, Hilary Randall had agreed that if she inherited more than £100,000 from her mother, anything over £100,000 would be split equally between her and her husband. After the mother died her Will left £100,000 to Mrs Randall, and the balance of the estate – around £150,000 – was left to the wife’s children.
Mr Randall then launched proceedings to challenge the validity of the will. However, Deputy Master Collaço Moraes found that he did not have sufficient interest in the Will, and therefore had no standing to bring a claim.
The case then proceeded to the Court of Appeal. Barrister Mark Baxter, acting for Mrs Randall, argued that the only people who could challenge a Will were those who had the right to administer the estate. He argued that as Mr Randall was not entitled to administer his mother-in- law’s estate, he was a ‘stranger to the estate’ and therefore did not have sufficient interest to bring a claim.
However in the Court of Appeal, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, ruled that ‘justice in the general sense requires the husband to bring a probate claim to set aside the Will.’ He noted that the overriding interest set by the procedural code was to deal with cases justly. Lord Dyson therefore argued that if Mr Randall did not have an interest in the estate, there would have no other route by which he could challenge the validity of the Will:
‘If this claim did not fall within the probate jurisdiction, but fell within the general jurisdiction of the court, it is obvious that [Mr Randall] would have a sufficient interest in the subject-matter of this litigation to bring the claim.’
‘He is not a mere busybody. He has a real interest in challenging the validity of the will.’
In judgement Lord Justice McCombe concurred, saying:
‘It appears to me to be highly unjust that if, in circumstances similar to the present, a Will had been forged in an attempt to defeat an order made in divorce proceedings, the party affected could not challenge the validity of the Will in probate proceedings.’ Lady Justice King also agreed.