Probate Dispute Costs: Dispute over £50 Inheritance Leads to £220K Bill

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Five “disappointed” granddaughters who disputed a £50 inheritance have been left to pay probate costs of over £220,000.

Probate Dispute Costs

Contentious probate disputes in England and Wales can lead to significant legal costs. These disputes arise when there is a disagreement over the validity of a Will, the distribution of an estate, or other related matters.

The general rule is that the unsuccessful party/ losing party is responsible for covering the costs of the successful party. However, in probate disputes, costs may be paid out of the estate if the court believes the dispute was reasonable.

The court has discretion to make various costs orders regarding who should bear the costs, which can depend on the conduct of the parties and the facts of the case.

The typical costs involved in a probate dispute are likely to include the following:

  • Solicitors’ Fees: Legal fees for solicitors are typically the most significant costs, charged on an hourly basis. Fees vary depending on the complexity of the case and the solicitor’s expertise.
  • Barristers’ Fees: If the case goes to court, barristers are often involved, and their fees are also charged on an hourly basis or a fixed fee for specific tasks.
  • Court Fees: These include fees for filing claims, applications, and other court services.
  • Expert Witness Fees: In some cases, expert witnesses may be required to provide testimony or reports, adding to the overall costs.

The losing party may be responsible for paying the costs of the winning party, as well as their own legal costs.

Background of the case

Frederick Ward Snr left his five granddaughters £50 each from his estate which was valued at approximately £500,000, including a flat worth £450,000.

His five granddaughters, Carol Gowing, Angela St Marseille, Amanda Higginbotham, Christine Ward, and Janet Pett made the decision to dispute the will.

Frederick Ward Snr felt disappointed with his granddaughters for not visiting him during his hospitalisation for a lung condition. Consequently, he largely disinherited them, leaving most of his estate to his two surviving children, Terry Ward and Susan Wiltshire..

The granddaughters argued they were entitled to a third of their grandfather’s estate, alleging the 2018 will was invalid due to undue influence by Terry Ward and Susan Wiltshire.

Master Brightwell ruled that the 2018 will was entirely rational. The grandchildren had very limited contact with Frederick Ward Snr, which justified their limited inheritance.

After the death of Frederick Ward Jr in 2015, family relations deteriorated, leading to reduced contact between Frederick Ward Snr and his granddaughters.

The granddaughters claimed their uncle Terry and aunt Susan unduly influenced their grandfather into changing his will. However, Master Brightwell found no evidence of coercion or control by Terry and Susan.

The decision to split the residue of the estate between Frederick Ward Snr’s surviving children, Terry and Susan, was deemed reasonable and not influenced improperly.

Claims that Frederick Ward Snr lacked the capacity to make the 2018 will or that he did not understand its effects were also rejected. The judge found no issues with the testator’s knowledge and approval of the will.

The granddaughters’ claim was therefore dismissed. Master Brightwell upheld the 2018 will, confirming that the estate would be distributed as per Frederick Ward Snr’s wishes.

Probate dispute costs in the case

The issue of costs was dealt with in a separate hearing. The legal costs incurred in the dispute over Frederick Ward Snr’s will highlight the significant financial implications of contentious probate litigation.

Following a costs hearing, the five granddaughters have been left with a bill exceeding £220,000 to cover both their own legal expenses and those of their aunt and uncle. The total defence legal bill for Terry Ward and Susan Wiltshire was estimated at £136,470 (plus VAT), with the judge ordering an immediate payment of £100,000. Meanwhile, the granddaughters’ own legal costs amounted to £85,688.50.

The granddaughters’ lawyer argued that they should not bear the entire costs of the case, accusing their uncle Terry of “provocative” behaviour during the will reading.

They claimed they were compelled to issue proceedings when Terry and Susan withdrew an undertaking not to distribute the estate, and requested that some costs be paid from their grandfather’s estate.

In contrast, Terry and Susan contended that they had to defend themselves due to the nature of the allegations against them, asserting that the court battle was necessary to uphold the will as written by their father.

In his ruling, the judge ordered the granddaughters to pay £100,000 upfront towards the successful parties’ costs and rejected the request to have some of the costs paid from the estate.

The judge reasoned that the cause of the litigation was the change in the relationship between the granddaughters and their grandfather, not any undue influence or misbehaviour by the defendants.

While acknowledging a promise made by Frederick Ward Snr that, should one of his children die, their children would inherit their share, the judge noted that the breakdown in the relationship, rather than the deceased’s actions, was the cause of the litigation.

“I don’t consider it is appropriate to order any costs to come out of the estate.”

“In circumstances where the defendants knew that minimal gifts had been made and that that would cause upset, I’m not sure why a will reading took place in the way that it did, causing some of the animosity.”

Ultimately, the five granddaughters were left with a substantial financial burden, highlighting the potential risks involved in pursuing contentious probate claims.

How can ARC Costs Assist?


As independent Costs Lawyers and Costs Draftsman providing legal advice, we act for both receiving parties in maximising their legal costs recovery, and also for paying parties in reducing the amount of any costs claim brought against them or to preserve the Estate.

We are adept in preparing Bills of Costs and conducting negotiations on your behalf, as well as preparing Points of Dispute or Points of Reply. Should you require assistance in respect of any Contentious Probate costs dispute, please contact us via the live chat facility below, via email at, or call one of our costs experts on on 01204 397302.


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01204 397302

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