Court of Appeal Overturns Will Dispute Ruling


Unfortunately, will disputes can sometimes be drawn out long after the passing of the person who bequeathed their assets. This was so in a contentious probate battle which progressed to the Court of Appeal after a High Court judgment was challenged.

The crux of the matter was a 2015 will made by a woman prior to her death at the age of 85. In that will, the woman bequeathed her home – her largest asset – to her only daughter. The daughter and the woman’s three sons were to share the residue of her estate.

In response, the sons issued proceedings disputing the validity of the will. They alleged that their mother lacked testamentary capacity when it was made, that she did not know and approve its contents, and that her daughter had exerted undue influence over her, making it invalid by reason of fraudulent calumny. They sought orders pronouncing against the will and in favour of a former will, made in 1986.

The High Court found for the sons, but did not pronounce a judgment of fraudulent calumny, concluding that it was a case of undue influence exercised by coercion – in the sense that the woman’s true will was overborne by the daughter – but not by fraud. The 2015 will was pronounced against, in favour of the 1986 will.

The daughter went on to challenge this ruling in the Court of Appeal, where the principle of undue influence was intricately explored and the evidence reconsidered. The Court overturned the previous ruling, finding that there was a perfectly rational basis for the woman bequeathing her home to her daughter. The daughter had both lived there and looked after her mother for six years, while witness evidence confirmed it was the woman’s perception that her daughter needed the property as a home and that her sons did not care for her, had abandoned her and had ‘their own homes and jobs’. Having found no direct evidence of coercion, the Court went on to confirm the validity of the 2015 will.

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