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Contested Will row

Contested Will row: Why a widow had to lose her home to pay her stepchildren’s legal fees

The importance of taking legal advice at the earliest possible stage has been highlighted by an inheritance battle which went badly wrong for one 71-year-old widow.

Diana Dale-Gough took her stepchildren to court in a bid to get a larger share of her late husband’s estate but ended up being evicted from her home after a High Court judge ruled against her.

The £800,000 house will now be sold so that she is able to cover the legal costs of her stepchildren, Ben Dale-Gough and Mary-Jane Pettit, who have been left ‘substantially out of pocket’ by the court proceedings she instigated.

Deputy Master Matthew Marsh concluded that Mrs Dale-Gough had largely brought the situation on herself: “The debt that has arisen is a direct consequence of the manner in which she conducted the Inheritance Act proceedings,” he said.

Why did the stepchildren win this inheritance battle?

The background to this case is that Mrs Dale-Gough’s husband, Peter, died in 2013 after collapsing while playing golf.

His Will, made in 2005, granted his wife the right to live in the house they shared for the rest of her life. If it was ever sold, in the event of her moving or giving her consent, the proceeds were to be split between her and his two children,

However, in 2020, Mrs Dale-Gough brought a claim to the County Court asking for more provision for her husband’s estate. This was turned down and she was ordered to pay her stepchildren’s legal costs of almost £100,000.

The only way she could meet this debt, without being declared bankrupt, was by the court ordering the sale of the property, particularly sad as Mrs Dale-Gough has multiple sclerosis and is largely housebound.

Deputy Master Marsh said: “In my judgement, the balance comes firmly down in favour of the claimants being entitled to recover the debt arising from the court proceedings which has now been outstanding for a lengthy period of time.”

What are the implications of this contested Will case?

The sad case of Mrs Dale-Gough shows how important it is to get legal advice at the earliest possibility to ensure you fully understand the merits of your case from the outset. It has been reported that Mrs Dale-Gough did not promptly and properly pursue her claim.

It also serves as a reminder that it shouldn’t be assumed that the deceased’s estate will bear the costs of an inheritance row. The Court will look at how all parties have behaved when considering who should foot the bill.

Get in touch

With the number of people disputing a loved one’s Will rising fast, the help of a specialist lawyer is vital as every case needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Extremely strict time limits also apply.

For help and advice about contesting or defending a Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate Team.

Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Law Society’s Probate Panel. All demand a high level of expertise and up to date knowledge from their members.

Wards Solicitors’ team is praised by the Legal 500 Guide for 2022 for its broad contentious trusts and probate practice with a particular emphasis on Inheritance Act and Court of Protection matters.

Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is highlighted as a key lawyer specialising in high value ad multi-jurisdictional matters.

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