Part 2 - Validity of a Will
Proprietary estoppel is an equitable concept which arises in circumstances whereby (1) there is a representation or assurance made to an individual that he or she has or will enjoy some right or benefit over the owner’s property and (2) the individual relies on that promise to his or her detriment. The consequent inheritance dispute comes to be upon the death of the individual who goes back on their promise and bequeaths the property to someone else.
These types of claims arise regularly in relation to farms and landed estates where the common theme in each case is a purported reliance by the adult child on a promise from their respective parents that one day the farm in question will be theirs.
The case of Rawlings v Chapman and others  EWHC 3160 (Ch) was a proprietary estoppel claim defended by two charities. The deceased left the residuary of his estate to “such charities for horses as his executor … might select”. The executor chose The Horse Trust and the Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies who in turn became the effective defendants in a proprietary estoppel claim bought by Mrs Rawlings. She claimed that she had paid substantial amounts of money towards the cost of building and fitting out a new house on farmland owned by the deceased because she was relying on repeated promises from him that “this will all be yours one day”. Mrs Rawlings submitted to the court that she believed the words to mean that the deceased would one day leave the house and surrounding land to her in his will.
The judge found that Mrs Rawlings had not made out the essential elements of a proprietary estoppel and the claim was dismissed. He said “I find therefore that Mr Hopkins did not make any promise to leave the house to Mrs Rawlings, nor did he say anything which led Mrs Rawlings to believe, whether or not reasonably, that such a promise had been made. Her financial contributions were made, some might say naïvely, toward a hoped-for joint life with the man she loved and hoped to marry, but who turned out not to be willing to give the commitment or adjust his lifestyle in the way that she hoped. They were not given in reliance on any belief that she had been promised she would inherit the house, because she did not have such a belief”.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, has been in the spotlight recently given a recent scientific breakthrough with the US approving the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 20 years. Light has also been shed on dementia and assessing testamentary capacity in the recent case of Hughes v Pritchard  EWHC 1580 Ch. In this case, Mr Hughes, who suffered from moderately severe dementia was nevertheless deemed to have capacity at the time of amending his will by his GP, a view supported by a joint medical expert later instructed in the case. Despite this, his will was overturned by the judge on the basis that he did not have the requisite capacity to make the changes to his previous will, which were much more significant than the medical professionals, and indeed Mr Hughes, had appreciated.
Matthew & Others v Sedman & Others  UKSC 19
The Supreme Court recently handed down a judgment dealing with time limits in a “midnight deadline” case. The claim was brought by new trustees and beneficiaries of a will trust against the former professional trustees. The claim involved allegations of negligence against the former trustees, along with breach of trust and breach of contract.
Financial abuse of older and vulnerable adults is sadly becoming more prevalent
My previous blog examined whether Kenny Goss, the ex-partner of George Michael, may be entitled to a provision from the late singer’s estate, notwithstanding the fact that their relationship had broken down in 2009 (seven years prior to Mr Michael’s death). It was reported at the time that Mr Goss was seeking an award of £15,000 per month on the basis that Mr Michael had been financially maintaining Mr Goss at the time of his death. Pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, Mr Goss made an application for reasonable financial provision from Mr Michael’s estate because he had not been left anything in the singer’s will.
In recent years the courts have seen a significant number of claims under the 1975 Act bought by adult children. This week it has been widely reported that the two adult daughters of Tony Shearer, a high profile banker and finance governor of a well-known public school, have failed in their attempt to bring a claim against their late father’s £2.2 million estate. Mr Shearer made no provision in his estate for his daughters leaving the majority of his wealth to his second wife.
Examining the impact of Sofer v Swiss Independent Trustees SA on practitioners in England and Wales.
This article was first published by STEP, December 2020: Katherine Pymont, 'Moments of Truth', Trust Quarterly Review (Vol18 Iss4), pp.36-41
Two recent decisions relating to forged wills have highlighted what evidence will be sufficient for a court to make a finding of forgery.
This quarterly contentious trust and probate litigation update provides a summary of a cross-section of reported decisions handed down in the courts of England and Wales in the period October 2020 - December 2020.
Beneficiaries often have questions and concerns over how the estate of a loved one is being administered but are sometimes kept in the dark by personal representatives (PRs). Under section 25(b) of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (AEA 1925) PRs can be required by the court to provide, on oath, a full inventory of the estate and an account of what steps they have taken to administer an estate.
The High Court has recently given judgment in the case of Knipe v The British Racing Drivers’ Motor Sport Charity and Ors  EWHC 3295 (Ch), a summary judgment application concerning the construction of a will of a deceased racing driver, Mr Barrie Williams, who had sought to make several bequests to charity but the names of the organisations had not been correctly recorded.
One of the questions we are often asked is whether an individual’s will can be amended after their death if it doesn’t reflect their intentions. This is sometimes possible under a process known as rectification, although the circumstances in which rectification is available are limited. A claim for rectification was recently considered by the court at the end of 2020 in the case of Barrett v Hammond & others.
It has been alleged that the ex-partner of George Michael, Kenny Goss, may be considering issuing a claim against the singer’s estate. Goss was excluded from the singer’s Will but purportedly claims he is entitled to a monthly allowance of £15,000 as the singer provided this monthly allowance to him before their relationship broke down in 2009.
Before the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (“the 1969 Act”) came into force on 1 September 1970, the common law rules of construction that a child is legitimate only if the child was born or conceived in wedlock applied when dealing with trust deeds or wills. The 1969 Act is not retrospective so difficulties may still arise in relation to trust deeds or wills settled/executed prior to that time.
This blog focuses on two practical considerations that should be borne in mind when dealing with an estate where there are any suspicions that the value of the assets when realised may be insufficient to meet all debts and liabilities in full.
It is not uncommon in claims involving trusts and estates for one or more of the parties to be a child or other protected party. This is particularly true of claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and in cases involving trusts with minor beneficiaries. The procedures for litigation by or on behalf of a protected party are covered by Part 21 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
This article was first published by EPrivateClient on the 18th August 2020
This quarterly contentious trust and probate litigation update provides a summary of a cross-section of reported decisions handed down in the courts of England and Wales in the period April 2020 - June 2020.
Delay is a common complaint in professional negligence claims against solicitors in the context of wills and probate. For example, If a client is in poor health or advanced old age and wants to create or update their will, they might instruct a solicitor to assist with this. If the client dies before the new will can be prepared and/or executed, the beneficiaries who would have inherited, had the will been put in place before the client’s death, may look to bring a professional negligence claim against the solicitor if there has been undue delay by the solicitor in preparing the will.
Solicitors in any field of practice are under a duty to exercise reasonable care and skill when acting for clients. In wills and probate practice, that duty also extends to the beneficiaries of a testator. If the solicitor has acted in breach of that duty, which causes loss to the client or their beneficiaries, this could form the basis for a professional negligence claim against the solicitor.
Most people would agree that if a person is convicted of unlawfully killing another person, it would be wrong for them to be allowed to benefit from their crime. For example, if a husband kills his wife and is the main beneficiary of his wife’s valuable life insurance policy, or is the main beneficiary of her estate under a will she has made, it would generally be unpalatable for the husband to be allowed to benefit from the policy or the estate. This principle is unheld in law by what is known as ‘the forfeiture rule’.
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