Where there is ill feeling within families, many elderly people understandably fear that their death will signal the outbreak of internecine strife. However, as a High Court case recently reviewed by Abigail Sunter showed, the best way to avoid such an outcome is to instruct an experienced solicitor to advise you and prepare your will.
The case concerned a widow who made a series of five wills in the years following her husband’s death. She was 96 when she made her final will, and died the next year. After some pecuniary bequests, the will divided three quarters of her estate – which was worth an estimated £1.2 million – between her three surviving children. The remaining quarter was split equally between her 11 grandchildren.
The validity of her final will was disputed by one of her grandsons who would have received 10 per cent of her estate under her penultimate will. In money terms, he would have inherited a six-figure sum under the penultimate will but was entitled only to about £27,000 under the final will.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the widow was suffering from a number of medical conditions when she made the final will. She suffered episodes of confusion and was classified as severely frail. It was, however, not in issue that she had the mental capacity required to make a valid will.
In finding that she both knew and approved the contents of the final will, the Court observed that the evidence of the solicitor who drafted the document was key. She had approached her task in a careful and methodical manner, visiting her client on three occasions. She had raised concerns about the reduction in the grandson’s inheritance and said that she had read out each clause of the will to confirm that each of them represented the widow’s wishes.
The grandson’s claim that the final will was the product of undue influence brought to bear by his uncle was also rejected. The Court acknowledged that there was ill feeling between the two men but did not accept that the widow had been coerced into making her final will. The Court pronounced in favour of the validity of the final will, opening the way for it to be admitted to probate.
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