29 September 2020 | Comment | Article by Richard Adams
Richard Adams, Senior Associate in the contested wills team of Hugh James, discusses a recent contested will claim believed to be the first to have been conducted entirely remotely.
The High Court has recently handed down judgment in the case of Coles v Reynolds & Anor  EWHC 2151 (Ch), which concerned a challenge to the validity of the last will of Lilian Vera Hillard deceased, by one of her daughters. One of the matters the court was asked to determine was whether the deceased had been subjected to undue influence.
The deceased, a widow, had two daughters with her late husband, Charles James: the claimant, Teresa Ann Coles, and the first defendant, Heather Christine Reynolds.
Charles died in 2008, leaving significant debts.
During 2009 Teresa had become estranged from her mother and Heather.
In 2010 Heather helped Lilian pay off a £20,000 debt left by Charles. In return, Lilian agreed to transfer her half share in her property to Heather.
Subsequently, on 23 May 2012, Lilian made a will (“the 2012 Will”) which named Heather as the sole executor and beneficiary of her estate, making no provision at all for Teresa. This was in contrast to Lilian’s earlier 2002 will which had split her estate equally between Heather and Teresa and named both as executors.
Teresa, therefore, issued a claim seeking to have the 2012 Will declared invalid on the basis that Heather had unduly influenced Lilian into making that will.
The decision of the court
In dismissing the claim, His Honour Judge Matthews found the fact that Lilian and Teresa had been estranged prior to her death was a clearly compelling factor.
In addition, Lilian had prepared the 2012 will with the help of a solicitor. The court accepted from a review of the notes prepared by the solicitor of meetings with Lilian that, while Heather had persuaded Lilian not to leave a particular legacy in the 2012 Will, that persuasion alone didn’t amount to undue influence.
Given the breakdown in the relationship between Lilian and Teresa, the court appears to have accepted that Lilian’s decision to change her will was entirely understandable.
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