When an estate is to be administered, an application for probate must first be made if the deceased left a will. Once probate is granted, the process can begin. However, the mere granting of probate does not mean that all is said and done on the matter, as a will can be contested.
Normally, wills are contested on the grounds that the person making the will was mentally incapable or under the ‘undue influence’ of someone else, or that the will is invalid for some other reason (such as being improperly witnessed).
An unusual case arose recently in which the claimants sought to have the grant of probate rescinded on the grounds that the testator had established a ‘domicile of choice’ in Belgium and his English will was therefore not valid. They argued that his English property should be dealt with by the English laws of intestacy and his Belgian estate would have to be dealt with under Belgian inheritance law.
In the first court hearing, that argument was rejected. The executor made a witness statement to the effect that the deceased’s assets in Belgium were insignificant. This was an important factor in the successful argument that the man had retained his UK domicile until his death.
The family members went back to court arguing that that decision had been made based on fraudulent evidence. It was their contention that the deceased man’s Belgian assets were significant – filling two barns – and that the executor had brought back two lorryloads of them to the UK. They argued that the executor’s evidence was knowingly false.
The executor argued that even though the statement he had made regarding the Belgian assets was false, it did not materially alter the situation. The decision would have been the same had the misrepresentations not been made.
The court did not agree. Domicile is a complex matter, but the deliberate suppression of evidence that would support the claim of a Belgian domicile meant that the argument had a sufficient chance of success to warrant sending the dispute to a trial to be held at a later date.