What is a caveat?
A caveat is a formal written notice which is lodged at the probate registry. Its purpose is to stop a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration from being issued in a deceased person’s estate without the caveator (the person who has entered the caveat) being notified.
The administration of the estate will be put on hold because the grant will not be issued until the caveat is removed either by agreement or by order of the court.
Reasons for entering a caveat
The most common reason is that the person who enters the caveat doubts the validity of the will.
Other reasons include that the person who enters the caveat disputes that the deceased died intestate and believes that there is a valid will. There might also be reservations about the suitability of the person who is administering the will or alternatively, the caveator may wish to bring a probate claim.
How long does a caveat last?
A caveat remains in force for six months from the date it was entered. A caveator may renew the caveat by simply sending a letter to the probate registry one month before the caveat is due to expire. This can be extended every six months until the caveat is removed.
There is a fee of £20 to extend a caveat.
Next steps once a caveat has been entered
As above, the issuing of the grant will be put on hold.
It is advisable to attempt to reach an agreement first by negotiating positions and establishing the reasons for entering the caveat.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the next step is to issue a formal ‘warning’ at the probate registry. There is no fee payable to the probate registry to do this.
Following the ‘warning’, the caveator will have 14 days to enter an ‘appearance’. This is not a physical appearance but requires the caveator to respond in writing setting out why a grant should not be issued and the reasons for opposing application for the grant of probate. If the caveator does not enter an ‘appearance’, then their caveat will be removed automatically by the probate registry.
If they do, the caveat will remain in place until an agreement is reached.
If an agreement is not reached, the probate registry will list this matter for a hearing and this is where matters can become costly.
From our experience, matters relating to caveats are often resolved at an early stage either by initial negotiation or following the warning.
This is because there may be cost consequences for the caveator if they continue to maintain the caveat and they are unsuccessful in their reasons for doing so; for example if the will cannot be challenged.
Entering a caveat at the probate registry should only be used if a caveator has a genuine interest in the estate and wishes to oppose the issue of a grant. If a warning is issued and a caveat is maintained and following a hearing, the registry determines that the caveat should be removed, there may be serious cost consequences for the caveator if there are no grounds to maintain the caveat.
Likewise, if there is a genuine concern about the administration of an estate a caveat is a useful tool to hold the issue of a grant whilst the issues in dispute are resolved.