Family disputes over wills may now incur costs
With family disputes over wills on the rise, claimants should ensure that they have strong grounds for contesting a will, after one judge ruled that a failed claimant should pay costs of over £65,000.
In this groundbreaking case, millionaire Ken Jordan died, leaving his entire estate to his partner, Ms Elliott. However, his illegitimate daughter did not agree with the contents of the will and promptly entered a caveat against the estate, thereby effectively preventing Ms Elliott from obtaining a grant of probate. Despite this, she did not subsequently make a claim against the will, forcing Ms Elliott to eventually issue proceedings to prove the will, in 2014.
The daughter, Ms Simmons, argued that the will was in fact invalid, due to lack of capacity, knowledge and approval and undue influence. The case eventually went to trial in December last year, where it was found that there were no grounds for suspecting that the will was not valid. Ms Simmons had no firm evidence to support her claims, and the fact that she never actually raised a challenge to the will, meant that her argument was rejected.
In addition, Deputy Judge Murray recognised that Ms Elliott had been forced to accrue substantial legal costs and declared that the defendant should be responsible for meeting these costs, to the tune of over £65,000.
Can I challenge a will where everything is left to charity?
When it comes to challenging a will, it is up to the court not only to decipher the true wishes of the deceased but to decide what is fair and right, when it comes to their next of kin.
The numbers of adult children contesting wills which have left either all, or the bulk of an estate to charity, is on the increase. It is unfortunate, yet a fact of life that family dynamics can change and relationships break down. In some instances, this rift proves irreparable, and the parent changes their will to leave their entire estate – or the largest portion of it – to charity, rather than give it to their child.
When faced with this situation, the court must first of all uncover the strength of the relationship between the deceased and the charity they named in their will. Did they make regular donations during their lifetime? Did they perhaps carry out volunteer work? Or did the deceased personally benefit from their care and service in some way? All of these would be valid reasons for a person to choose to show their appreciation, rather than bequeath their money for revenge against their child.
It doesn’t end there, however. Even if the reasons given by the deceased for leaving all their money to charity are honourable and valid, the financial situation of their surviving children must also be considered. For example, a recent legal case found that although a woman had deliberately left all of her money to three animal charities, she also had an obligation to her daughter, which she had chosen to ignore. In that instance, the daughter was subsequently awarded a third of her mother’s estate.
If you feel that you have a valid case for claiming assets from a parent’s will from which you have been omitted, it is advisable to contact the executors of the will to see if an agreement can be reached. Due to the tension and upset this could potentially cause, legal proceedings should only be commenced once this attempt has been made to negotiate.
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Contesting a will has left a family with £150,000 legal costs; effectively wiping out any assets left by the deceased.
After her husband died twenty years ago, Daphne Burgess made out a will which left her entire estate divided equally between her three children.
Over the following few years, her son Peter and daughter Julia bickered and fell out over a number of trivial issues which resulted in them becoming estranged from each other.
Unfortunately, Daphne subsequently suffered a mini stroke in December 2006, only a few days after Julia had taken her to change her will, indicating that only her two daughters should be her sole beneficiaries.
The will was executed around a month later and Mrs Burgess sadly passed away a couple of years later; sixteen years after the death of her husband and it was not until this time that the changes came to light.
A lengthy court case ensued in which it was revealed that Julia had used £18,000 from her mother’s bank accounts for her own personal use. It was only this week that the judge ruled that Daphne’s original will should stand, with the money being split between all three siblings.
Unfortunately, legal costs to date have accrued to the region of £150,000, effectively wiping out Mrs Burgess entire estate. Her son however has nobly offered to pay these costs in full, to spare his sisters the financial stress and ensure that both his sisters receive what is due to them.