Think Hard Before Changing Your Will – High Court Cautionary Tale
Keeping your will up to date is a very good idea, but making changes that are likely to disappoint members of your family who might expect to inherit can be a recipe for dispute after you are gone. That was certainly so in a High Court case concerning a woman who, following an estrangement, all but disinherited her only child.
By her first will, made in 2000, the woman left all but £15,000 of her estate to her son. However, by subsequent wills, executed in 2006 and 2010, she left much of her estate to four charities and only £35,000 to her son. His response following her death was to launch proceedings challenging the validity of the 2006 and 2010 wills.
He argued that his mother lacked the mental capacity required to make either will and that she neither understood nor approved their contents. He said that his mother had promised him that he would inherit everything and asserted that a lifelong friend of hers, who was bequeathed £70,000 under the 2010 will, had fraudulently taken advantage of her and persuaded her to make the wills by undue influence.
In ruling that the son’s challenge had no real prospect of success, the Court noted that medical records indicated that his mother had rationally decided to change her will. There was evidence that arguments with her son resulted in an estrangement that greatly upset her and led to feelings of abandonment. There was no evidence whatsoever that she lacked capacity to make a valid will.
Whatever her intentions may have been in happier times, they had clearly changed following the estrangement and she had executed the 2006 and 2010 wills with full knowledge and approval of their contents. The attack on the friend’s character was wholly unjustified. There was no evidence that she had poisoned the woman’s mind against her son and the serious accusations against her were so fanciful that they should never have been made.
The son had given consistent evidence that his mother had promised to leave him everything. The Court found, however, that any such promise was merely a statement of her intention at the time and did not place her under any binding obligation. In upholding an application made by the four charities, the Court ruled that the son’s challenge was totally without merit and pronounced in favour of the 2010 will as the woman’s last true will and testament.