As a recent Court of Appeal case decided the answer is ‘no,’ but perhaps the group of people who can challenge a will is wider than you might think.
When a husband and a wife divorced, the financial settlement included a provision that if the wife was to inherit more than £100,000 from her mother, whilst she could keep that, any extra would be split equally between her and her husband. On her mother’s death, the wife inherited £100,000 with the balance of the estate, estimated at about £150,000, being divided between the couple’s children.
The “disappointed” husband brought a probate claim to challenge the validity of his former mother in law’s will on the basis that it had not been duly executed in accordance with section 9 of the Wills Act 1837. If the will was found to be invalid he would be entitled to approximately £75,000.
The wife argued that the husband had no standing to bring a claim. The judge who initially dealt with the case agreed with her but the Court of Appeal decided the opposite.
Under the rules of court a claimant in a probate case must have an “interest” in the deceased’s estate. The court decided that a creditor of a person who has an interest under a will does have sufficient interest in the deceased’s estate to enable them to be a party to a court action. The court said that whether ultimately the claimant had a good claim was a question of substantive law but whether they had the right to bring a claim was a matter of procedure.
Apart from anything else the court took into account the overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost. As one judge stated, the husband was not a “mere busybody” but someone who had “a real interest in challenging the validity of the will”. Although in a much earlier case the judge had said that if a creditor was allowed to dispute the validity of a will it would create “infinite trouble, expense and delay to executors” the Court of Appeal clearly took a different view.