28 October 2013
Will dispute puts the focus on illegitimate children
News that a Berkshire woman has failed in a legal challenge to overturn her late father’s will has prompted lawyer Craig Williams to warn of the importance of planning ahead and making sure your legal affairs are in order.
Chloe Brennan, from Reading, had taken her case to the High Court after she accused her late father’s “traditionalist” family of cutting her out of a £500,000 inheritance because she was born illegitimately.
An only child, she claimed her father had been pressured into signing a death-bed will just two weeks before his death, leaving her only £100,000 from his £630,000 estate while the remainder was left to his siblings.
Mrs Brennan claimed that because her parents were not married, the family had always refused to accept her as one of their own and that they felt her existence had “brought shame on the family”.
She said that her father had promised to leave her everything on her wedding day and accused two of her aunts, as well as the will’s executors, of being “part of a conspiracy to fraudulently propound an invalid will”. They denied the accusations.
In the High Court, Judge Mark Herbert QC ruled that Mrs Brennan’s father had not been subjected to any “undue influence” when he signed the will, although he acknowledged that suspicions had been raised by the absence of legal advice and the fact that it was “encouraged and drawn up by members of the family who stood to benefit under it”.
He said the accusations of dishonesty were not backed up by evidence and, despite her suspicions, she had failed to undermine the validity of the will, which had been executed according to law.
Craig Williams, partner at leading Buckinghamshire lawyers B P Collins LLP, says the case underlines the need to take advice about potential claims against your estate and to adopt a fair and reasonable approach, having in mind those claims.
“Will disputes are one of the fastest growing areas of law. This is often because wills are poorly written, people have failed to take professional legal advice or have been less than transparent when drawing up their will,” he said.
“Equally, given the increase in second and third marriages, or indeed couples who live together without getting married, the opportunities for confusion and friction between different family members when it comes to inheriting from a loved one can make it very difficult.”
Research by AA Legal Services shows that nearly half of all Britons still haven’t made a will, 56% of those said they ‘just hadn’t got round to it’, while 28% were worried about the cost and the complexity, or concerned about getting a lawyer involved.
“We often refer to the £40 will and the £40,000 pound claim – if you purchase a cheap will, either online or from an unregulated (and often untrained) adviser in today's more material and complex society, a mistake or lack of clarity or consideration of all your affairs could cost your estate and thus your beneficiaries a lot of money,” said Craig.
“A qualified lawyer will, by contrast, provide the necessary advice and help to make sure your estate is divided according to your wishes, rather than be vulnerable to claims from others who may think they were entitled to inherit.
“And using a lawyer isn’t expensive, particularly when compared to the annual cost of other insurance products and the fact it provides peace of mind for you and your inheritors,” he concluded.