Recent Case Proves Persuasion Is Not Undue Influence
The case involved a dispute between two sisters over their mother’s Will. Made in May 2012, the mother had changed her previous Will. This had divided her estate equally between her two daughters. The new Will left the entire estate to her second daughter, also named as her Executor.
On the face of it, the first daughter would appear to have a valid claim. However, the two-part action brought by her excluded daughter (the Claimant), maintained her sister (The Defendant) exerted undue influence on their mother. Specifically:
- That the Defendant had exerted undue influence on their mother by persuading her to make a new Will. Their mother had not approved the content and was not aware of this new Will. It was argued that the Court should revoke the Grant of Probate, currently in sole favour of the second daughter.
- That the Court should set aside an assignment of one-half share of the beneficial interest in their mother’s property because it had been procured by undue influence. This is known as a derivative claim.
Knowledge & Approval
The Claimant did not challenge the Will based on her mother’s lack of testamentary capacity or claim that the new Will had been executed incorrectly. This meant that it was her sister’s (the Defendant) responsibility to demonstrate that their mother knew and had approved of the new Will’s contents. That this Will was entirely valid.
A solicitor’s note was produced in evidence. “She [the Deceased] was adamant she did not want [the Claimant] to inherit as she had done nothing for her mother and no longer wants to see her, she said her daughter [the Defendant] does everything for her”.
The Court accepted this clearly demonstrated why the new Will had been made. This was further backed up by an independently signed statement (around the time the new Will had been made) from the mother. Further confirmation that the deceased had capacity, knowledge and approval of the contents of her Will was borne out by the solicitors’ file notes.
It was clear that the new Will was a significant departure from the previous one. However, the Court did not accept the Claimant’s argument that the Defendant’s involvement was suspicious and dismissed this part of the claim.
The Claimant argued, “there was strong circumstantial evidence”. That her sister had placed undue influence on their mother when her Will was made. She had taken unfair advantage of her frail and vulnerable state. Furthermore, she argued that their mother was heavily reliant on her sister, who’d also persuaded her not to leave something to her grandchildren.
The Court dismissed these arguments. There was no evidence of concern about the deceased’s mental capacity. Being frail and vulnerable didn’t mean a person wasn’t able to make a valid Will. It was also noted that it was clear the deceased did rely on the Defendant, but she was not her sole source of support.
It was proven that their mother had discussed her desire to leave the Claimant’s children a legacy with her solicitor. However, the Defendant reminded her mother that the only way to do this would be to sell her house, which she did not want to do.
Crucially, the Court accepted that the Defendant had ‘persuaded’ her mother not to go ahead with these bequests. But it did not accept this ‘persuasion’ constituted undue influence. Given the nature of the Claimant’s relationship with their mother, the Court concluded that the decision to change her Will was entirely understandable.
Following the dismissal of the first part of the claim, the Claimant was not then entitled to pursue her claim on behalf of her mother’s estate.
Further Information or Advice
This case demonstrates that even if a Will seems unfair by disinheriting someone entirely, there must be solid evidence of undue influence to make a successful claim. Circumstantial evidence about mental capacity or a claim that a new Will that is different from what is expected, is not enough.
Furthermore, it’s clear that in taking professional advice, their mother had ensured her final wishes, albeit upsetting for one of her daughters, were carried out.
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