Contentious Trusts and Probate Monthly Round-Up: August 2017

24 August 2017

Nahajec v Fowle [2017]

Leeds County Court has found in favour of an estranged adult child who claimed reasonable financial provision from her late father’s estate pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Stanley Nahajec had disinherited all three of his adult children bequeathing his entire estate to a friend. His Honour Judge Saffman held that his daughter Elena was entitled to maintenance from the £240,000 estate (despite a period of estrangement from her father in the years leading up to his death). He said “£30,000 is my best estimate of the capitalised cost of maintenance for a reasonable time going forward to take into account the possibility, albeit contingent, of the claimant undertaking a course which ultimately results in her becoming a veterinary nurse”.

Law Commission consultation on reforming law of wills

The Law Commission has published a Consultation Paper on reforming the law of wills. The consultation seeks feedback from the public and professionals on a wide range of issues. The objectives of reform are: (i) supporting testamentary freedom, including reform aimed at encouraging and facilitating will-making and reform aimed at supporting testators’ intentions; (ii) protecting the testator from fraud and undue influence; and (iii) increasing the clarity and certainty of the law in this area, in so far as this is possible. Read more about the consultation here .

(1) Nigel Ball (2) Debra Churchward (3) Barbara Briers v Stephen Ball & Othrs [2017]

The High Court (Bristol District Registry) has considered a claim by three adult children (“the Claimants”) seeking a determination as to the validity of their late mother’s will or, in the alternative, a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Barbara Ball had 11 children with her late husband James Ball. The Claimants had been excluded from her will following a lengthy estrangement arising as a consequence of allegations that they had been sexually abused by their father when they were younger. Mr Ball had pleaded guilty to indecent assault of the Second Claimant and the Third Claimant.

The Claimants submitted that their late mother’s belief in their father’s innocence was such a serious mistake as to remove her testamentary capacity. It was submitted that "[her] mental state was impaired in the sense that she was misled as to crucial facts by [her husband], and she would not have reached those conclusions had she not been misled.  Her state of mind was such that her capacity was lacking, because of the serious misapprehension under which she was labouring". Mr Justice Matthews applied Re Belliss [1929] finding that a mere mistake without more was not enough to invalidate a will. It needed to be proved that false belief resulted from mental incapacity.

The Claimants had also not made out their claims for reasonable financial provision. Mrs Ball had no moral obligation to the Claimants for excluding them from her will as a consequence of their complaints to the police, nor did such an obligation arise as a result of the abuse suffered at the hands of her husband (that she did not condone). The estate was also small and the maintenance needs of the Claimants not dissimilar to the existing beneficiaries.

Should you wish to discuss a disputed Will or Trust, please do not hesitate to contact our Wills, Trusts and Inheritance Disputes team.

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