Court’s costs order sends out warning in relation to family Will disputes
By Simon Tilling
In the recent case of Elliot v Simmonds  EWHC 962 (Ch) the High Court has ordered the daughter challenging a Will to pay the Claimant’s legal fees of more than £65,000. This gives a warning that courts will make costs orders against parties who pursue weak Will challenges.
Ms Simmonds, illegitimate child of the self-made millionaire, Ken Jordan, argued that his Will was invalid for lack of capacity, knowledge and approval and undue influence. She also asserted that she had a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She took no steps to bring an actual claim on any of these grounds and did not raise any positive case. She merely required the Will to be proved as being valid. Mr Jordan’s Will left everything to his partner, Ms Elliott, who was the claimant for the purposes of the legal proceedings.
When the case went to trial, Deputy Judge Murray found nothing to suggest Mr Jordan’s Will was invalid and accordingly proved the Will in favour of Ms Elliott. Ms Elliott was left with significant costs. In this type of situation, each side usually pays its own costs unless it can be shown that ‘there was no reasonable ground for opposing the Will’. Ms Elliott’s legal team argued that Ms Simmonds had acted unreasonably in challenging Mr Jordan’s Will. The judge agreed and ordered costs against Ms Simmonds including an initial payment of £65,000.
This case sends out a stark warning to anyone planning to dispute a Will – you must be prepared to prove that you have reasonable grounds for challenging the Will or risk having a costs order being made against you.
Simon Tilling is a solicitor in the Private Client team at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk Solicitors.