Undue Influence – a Cautionary Tale
The only child of a wealthy diplomat has failed in her attempt to overturn her late father’s Will. The case serves as yet another warning to disappointed beneficiaries who want to sue.
Chloe Brennan (40) was shocked to find that after her father François Devillebichot died in 2011 he had left a Will leaving her only £100,000.00 out of his estate of £620,000.00. She believed that her father had promised to leave her everything.
But after he died of throat cancer aged 65, she learnt that the Will he had signed days before left most of his £620,000.00 estate to his sisters Anne and Lucille, his brother Phillippe and the children of a third sister, Jackie.
Chloe Brennan’s suspicions were fuelled by the fact that her father did not take legal advice – and the Will was encouraged and drawn up by the members of the family who stood to benefit under it.
Mrs Brennan had become financially dependent on her father after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She claimed that her father’s siblings had exerted undue influence on him to get him to sign the Will and that they were prejudiced against her because she was born out of wedlock.
At the High Court on 25th September 2013 Judge Mark Herbert QC ruled that Mrs Brennan’s father had not been subjected to any undue influence and knew what he was doing when he signed the Will. Her accusations of dishonesty were not backed up by any evidence that the Will had been executed wrongly according to law.
Commenting on this case Sarah Young, Partner at Ridley & Hall said:
“A Will does not have to be drawn up by a solicitor to make it valid – but it can help to avoid this kind of dispute. This is because a solicitor will independently seek to verify the wishes of the testator, check as far as is possible that they are of sound mind and advise of any potential legal challenge. In this case, for example, a solicitor might have advised François Devillebichot to leave a letter of wishes explaining to his daughter why he had made the Will in the way that he did.”
She went on to add:
“It is understandable that disappointed beneficiaries like Chloe Brennan will want to sue – but it’s important that they should be advised that the court must be presented with compelling evidence if it is to overturn a Will. The court takes the view that as a Will is the last known written expression of the deceased’s wishes, it must stand unless evidence proves that on the balance of probabilities (i.e. more than 50%) it is not valid.”
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate and personal injury. Sarah has an LLM in Personal Injury Law and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.