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Time limits in Inheritance Act claims

Posted on 12 August 2019 by Charlotte Dullaway

Time limits in Inheritance Act claims

Section 4 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 imposes a strict time of six months from the date of the Grant of Probate. If you want to issue a claim after six months has passed you will require the permission of the Court and only in very limited circumstances will it be granted.

It sounds straight forward. Claims should be issued within six months of the Grant. However, it has been common practice for solicitors to enter into Limitation Standstill Agreements to avoid their clients having to embark on Court proceedings straight away. The idea of a standstill is that all the parties agree not to take issue with the claimant issuing the claim after the time limit has expired. The benefit of this is that it allows more time for negotiations to take place and may mean that proceedings are not needed at all.

The use of Standstill Agreements seemed sensible when you think of how overstretched the Courts are these days. However, contentious probate lawyers were thrown into disarray earlier this year when the High Court in the case of Cowan v Foreman and ors [2019] condemned the practice and made clear that the parties did not have the authority to extend the time limit. That case involved an application for permission to bring an Inheritance Act claim out of time when a Limitation Standstill had been agreed. The application was dismissed.

The decision could have had serious implications for those claimants who had been advised that they did not need to issue proceedings because a Standstill Agreement was in place.

Thankfully the situation has now been clarified. The claimant in Cowan v Foreman and ors [2019] successfully appealed the High Court’s decision and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that Standstill Agreements can be used for Inheritance Act claims. The Court of Appeal clarified that, for a standstill agreement to have effect they must clearly record the terms agreed, all the potential parties to the claim must be parties to the agreement and each party must be properly advised on the terms.

Whilst the acceptance of Standstill Agreements will be welcomed by lawyers, it is important to remember that the time limit imposed by the Inheritance Act is otherwise strictly enforced so if you do not have a Standstill Agreement in place it is likely to be very difficult to pursue a claim once the time limit has expired.

If you are considering a claim under the Inheritance Act it is important to take legal advice without delay. If you would like further information or to discuss a potential claim contact Pardoes contentious probate specialist, Charlotte Dullaway, on 01823 446230 or via email to charlotte.dullaway@pardoes.co.uk.

Posted in: Dispute Resolution