Earlier this month, at the bitter end of a protracted four-year legal battle, a senior civil judge in the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s previous ruling that Dr Christine Gill is entitled to inherit her parent’s £2.3 million farm. This is despite their Wills leaving everything they owned to the RSPCA.
Whilst she should be celebrating, it is reported that Dr Gill is understandably struggling to cope with why her father and mother disinherited her in the first place.
Dr Gill had lived virtually next door to her parent’s farmhouse, where they had lived for more than 30 years. The £2.3m farm in North Yorkshire, with 287 acres of land, is also where, for decades, Dr Gill and her husband had worked for her parents without any pay. They did this, fully believing that the farm would eventually pass to her and her young son, as is a common tradition in farming families. Dr Gill had never had any indication from either her father or her mother that she was going to be cut out of the Will.
Dr Gill’s father died first, and then seven years later, her mother also sadly passed away. It then transpired that their Wills, which had been made at the same time, left everything to each other on the death of the first and then to the RSPCA. The Wills even specifically mentioned that no provision was to be made for their daughter. With the RSPCA being the only beneficiary in the Will, her parents’ possessions were sold in a house clearance auction, and the farm was placed on the market for sale.
Dr Gill suspected that her mother was coerced by her father, who was reportedly a very domineering man. She therefore launched a legal challenge against the Will, which was started in the High Court in Leeds in 2007. It was argued by her solicitors that Dr Gill’s mother had been coerced by her husband. Her fragile mental state meant that she did not understand her actions, and was pressured by him into complying with his wishes when they made their Wills, rather than her own wishes. In addition to her fragile mental state, Joyce Gill was said to have disliked the RSPCA, making it irrational to have left her entire estate to them.
The High Court therefore found that the Will was invalid, and overturned it in 2009. However, the RSPCA decided to appeal that ruling, and they were unsuccessful in that appeal, earlier this month. As well as losing the appeal, the RSPCA are also now facing a reported £1.3 million legal fees bill, being their own costs, plus Dr Gill’s.
This case highlights how important it is for people thinking of leaving money to charity in their will, to inform those closest to them of their wishes during their lifetime. As a solicitor specialising in contested Wills and inheritance disputes, I deal with cases like this often. Challenges on the basis of lack of mental capacity and undue influence are very common.
Sometimes people are not even aware that they can bring a claim. If you are in any doubt, then contact our specialist litigation team who deal with inheritance disputes on 01616 966 229. If you are of limited financial means, you may even be entitled to Legal Aid, and we can advise you of this quickly over the phone.