Our experience in contesting wills
Hugh James successful in contesting a will for undue influence
Matthew Evans acted for the successful claimant in the leading case involving contesting a will for undue influence of Re Edwards  EWHC 1119 (Ch). The claimant, John Edwards, contested the will of his late mother, Winifred Victoria Edwards, which left the whole of her estate to her other son, Terry. John’s claim was that Terry had deliberately poisoned his mother’s mind by making untruthful accusations against John and his wife, Carol, with the effect that their mother’s free will was “overborne” such that she changed her will to favour Terry.
The High Court found in favour of John and held that the will should be set aside for undue influence, specifically on the basis of “fraudulent calumny”, a type of undue influence which involves one person “poisoning” the mind of another in the hope of them changing their will to exclude another person.
This case remains one of the leading cases on contesting a will for undue influence, specifically, fraudulent calumny.
Hugh James settles claims regarding lack of due execution, fraud, lack of testamentary capacity, lack of knowledge and approval and undue influence
Hugh James acted for a claimant who was contesting her late uncle’s last four wills on the basis that:
- three of the wills had not been validly signed and witnessed in accordance with section 9 Wills Act 1837; and
- the other will was made at a time when the deceased had been extremely vulnerable and therefore susceptible to the influence of others.
During his lifetime the deceased, an elderly gentleman, had invested in a number of questionable investments involving rare metals and wine portfolios and soon became the target of numerous scams. He was befriended by one of the employees of one of the wine investment companies who went under a pseudonym and, over the course of a number of months, his investments steadily increased as did apparent gifts to the employee in his wills.
After detailed investigations and robust correspondence we were successful in having the gift to the employee set aside and we were also able to achieve an excellent result for our client at mediation against another beneficiary who had sought to secure a significant gift under that same will.
Hugh James successfully defends attempt to challenge will
In addition to successfully contesting wills, we pride ourselves on robustly defending will claims. In a recent claim we acted for the daughter of the deceased who had left her entire estate to our client.
Our client’s half-sister sought to contest the will on the basis that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity and knowledge and approval and entered a caveat in an attempt to block the grant of probate.
It was clear from the outset that the claim had no merit but the half-sister sought to use the caveat as leverage in the hope of achieving a pay-out.
We therefore issued a claim to “prove” the last will and the half-sister immediately agreed to withdraw her challenge.
Hugh James achieves settlement in lost will claim
During his last years the deceased was bed-bound and totally reliant on the support of carers. His will (which was homemade) couldn’t be found after he died.
The legal dispute focused on the reasons why the will had been lost. If the will was deliberately destroyed by the deceased with the intention of revoking it, then it wouldn’t have effect, and the estate would have passed on the basis of the intestacy rules, the rules which apply where there is no valid will. On the other hand, if the will was genuinely ‘lost’, or destroyed by mistake, then it would still have taken effect.
Evidence was scarce, and it became clear that if the matter reached trial the court was going to have to decide which event was more likely, based on the individual circumstances.
We acted for a company who represented all of the intestacy beneficiaries. The opponents (the executors and beneficiaries under the lost will) argued that the will had most likely been accidentally destroyed by a third party.
We were able to negotiate a favourable settlement for the intestacy beneficiaries which avoided the costs and risk of trial.