This case that has just started in the High Court in London this week has caught my eye.
Wealthy businessman George Wharton proposed to Maureen, his former mistress, as soon as he was diagnosed as terminally ill. They married in their sitting room just hours after he was told he was going to die, and he sadly died just 3 days later. They had lived together for many years before they married.
His three adult daughters have been cut out of his estate, and started a lengthy legal battle against their stepmother. The trial started in the High Court yesterday. The sisters are alleging that Maureen put pressure on him to leave his fortune to her and make sure they got nothing. This type of challenge is referred to as undue influence, and is notoriously difficult to prove in Wills cases. This is because the person who was being “influenced” is not able to give evidence, as they have passed away.
The Court has been told that George was not close to his daughters, and was estranged from two of them. In contrast, he had a long and loving relationship with Maureen, who lived with him as his partner for years and eventually took his name. He was diagnosed with cancer in September 2008, and immediately proposed to Maureen. He obtained a special discharge from hospital the next day and married her that evening at the home they shared. None of his daughters were present at the wedding, and it is understood that he gave clear instructions that he did not want his children to inherit anything.
Without knowing the ins and outs of the case, I do think that the daughters may struggle with their case. The Will appears to be “rational”, in that he was estranged from his daughters and therefore it could be argued that it is understandable that he cut them out. The Courts are reluctant to intervene with a person’s free will to leave their estate to whomever they wish to. Unless the daughters can prove that he was pressured into changing his Will, they stand the risk of losing, and having to pay Maureen’s legal costs.
This kind of case shows how complex these cases can become, and the need to have specialist legal advice at an early stage. If you think you may need to challenge a person’s Will, or if someone is trying to challenge your inheritance under a Will, 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.