Sister and niece of childless widow win battle over £825,000 fortune

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Contesting a Will Article

25 February, 2020

A claim was recently brought to an end in which the sister and niece of Shirley Guymer (Deceased), alleged a Will executed two months before the Deceased passed away was invalid on one or more of the following grounds:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Want of knowledge and approval of the terms of the Will
  • Undue influence

The defendants were the brother of the Deceased, Terry Crook and his two children, Malcolm and Andrew. It was alleged that the Defendants coerced and bullied a vulnerable, terminally ill testator into signing a Will in hospital shortly before her death. The Will gifted them the £645,000 property in the Deceased's £825,000 estate.

Under the disputed Will, Terry Crook was due to receive 50% of the property, and the remaining 50% was split equally between Malcolm and Andrew Crook. There was approximately £180,000 in liquid assets which would have been split between the Deceased's five siblings and their children.

Terry Crook had bought the land upon which the property stood and had given the Deceased and her husband a plot for their property. The Deceased's husband had predeceased her, and they had no children.

Terry lived next door to the Deceased, and it was alleged that his motive behind the coercion was to keep the property in his side of the family.

The Deceased's previous Will distributed 95% of the estate to her eleven nephews and nieces, and the remaining 5% to Rowans Hospice who had cared for her in later life after being diagnosed with cancer.

The Claimants' barrister, Julian Sidoli, stated to Terry Crook whilst questioning, 'Between you and the rest of your clan, you stitched up an old lady'.

The Defendants asserted that the Deceased was a stubborn and strong woman and knew her own mind when she signed the Will.

However, a settlement was agreed after 6 days of the trial in which the defendants accepted the 2016 Will should be revoked and the estate should be distributed in line with the previous Will. Clearly, a good result for the Claimants.

Challenging the validity of a Will

Challenging the validity of a Will is not an easy process and there needs to be clear evidence present to support the challenge. Although the circumstances and terms of a Will may appear suspicious, without the supportive evidence present, a challenge will likely fail at trial.

Evidence is often found within medical/care records, on the file of the solicitors who drafted the Will, and through making enquiries with those who were present at the time the Will was executed.

The Claimants in the above case were obviously concerned that a Will had been made when the Deceased was in a vulnerable state, shortly before she passed away, and involving a substantial change to the distribution under her previous Will.

It is expected the defendants took the view during trial that given the evidence before the Court, the Judge would rule in the Claimants' favour. The Defendants therefore agreed a settlement in which they essentially conceded that the Will was invalid.

The Defendants had submitted evidence that the Deceased's GP had confirmed the Deceased had capacity. However, a GP's opinion on capacity does not automatically validate a Will, and all the evidence before the Court must be considered in reaching a decision.

If you are concerned with the terms of a Will and suspicious of the circumstances of the drafting and execution of the Will, such as in the case set out above, we can assist by carrying out the necessary investigations to advise on a potential challenge to the validity. Considering the legal position, we can then act on your behalf in pursuing a claim to challenge the validity of a Will, offering a range of funding options depending on the facts of the case.

For more information contact Tom Howcroft in our Contesting a Will department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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