The Court of Appeal ruled last week in a case that I have been following involving a challenge against the validity of a Will.
In Julia Hawes V Elizabeth Burgess & Anor  Ewca Civ 74, the Court of Appeal handed down their judgment on the 19th February.
The case involved a family arguing over the Will of their mother Daphne Burgess, who died around 4 years ago at the age of 80. Daphne had made a Will in 1996 leaving her estate to all three of her children equally. She however then changed her Will in 2007, this time leaving her estate to her two daughters Julia Hawes and Elizabeth Burgess. She had cut out her son Peter, leaving him nothing. He therefore started a claim against the estate, to try and have the Court declare the Will invalid.
Elizabeth agreed with Peter, and both tried to argue that their mother was suffering from dementia when she made the Will in 2007. Julia however insisted her mother was of sound mind. The court case was initially heard in the Central London County Court in January last year, and the Judge declared that the Will was invalid. Julia chose to appeal against the ruling of the County Court, and therefore the case went to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Julia’s appeal, finding that Daphne had lacked ‘knowledge and approval’ of the contents of the Will, and that, if there was any estate left, it should be split 3 ways in accordance with the Will made in 1996.
One of the Judges, Lord Justice Mummery, was very critical of the costs that were incurred by both parties in the case, which resulted in the estate, which is believed to have been worth around £200,000, being diminished to nearly nothing. He commented that “the cost of contesting Mrs Burgess’s will is a calamity for this family in every way. Even worse are the human consequences for a once close-knit and loving family”.
By contesting Wills and Probate solicitor, Heather Korwin-Szymanowka
- As a solicitor specialising in inheritance disputes, and also as a registered member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), it is important that the cost implications of cases like this are considered from the outset. Options such as mediation or Alternative Dispute Resolution should always be considered at an early stage to try and reach settlement without costly court proceedings, which just reduce the value of the estate.
- Anyone facing this kind of inheritance dispute with their family members, or wishing to contest a will for any other reason, should always seek specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity. For a fixed fee of £49.95, you can have a 30 minute appointment with either myself, or another solicitor who specialises in your kind of case. The appointment can be either on the telephone, or face to face, depending on your preference. We will take some details from you before the appointment, and then the solicitor will discuss your case with you, and what your options are. If your case is something that we can then help you further with, we can then discuss your funding options with you.