Happy New Year from The Technical Team!
So what cases were in the public eye towards the festive period? Well we’ve got some bitesize articles for you to look at below – surprisingly the articles share one common ground – disputes over inheritance.
Blyth v Estate of Charles Caudle (2019)
This has been quite a high-profile case for some time following an ongoing dispute between Mr Caudle’s fiancée and his ex-wife over his estate.
After divorcing his wife Ms Muddleman in 2007, Mr Caudle started a relationship with another successful business owner, Ms Blyth, in 2008. Shortly after, Ms Blyth moved into Mr Caudles multi-million-pound home and soon after, they were engaged.
In 2010 Ms Blyth moved out of the home with their children and into a bungalow owned by Mr Caudle worth around £300,000. It is claimed the reason for this was because there was friction between his son and Ms Blyth’s children. However, they continued to be in a loving relationship until he died in 2016 following a battle with cancer.
Mr Caudle died leaving a Will which he had signed in 2014. In the Will it named his ex-wife as the executor and trustee of his estate with his son as the only beneficiary. Incidentally the Will did refer to Ms Blyth as his fiancée but only provided for her once the gifts and any other legacies were paid out first. There was no provision for her to remain in the bungalow with her children.
Ms Blyth argued that after she moved out of the home, she maintained to be in a relationship with him and he had always told her she would have a “roof over her head.” However, it was very clear that he had not gifted her the bungalow and therefore action commenced against Ms Blyth on the grounds of trespass.
Ms Blyth maintained her position that Mr Caudle had assured her that she would always have a “roof over her head” and referred to a letter of wishes that had been placed with his Will. On this basis she brought a proprietary estoppel claim and was required to show the following:
- An assurance that was made to that she would acquire the bungalow
- She relied on that promise or assurance
- As a result of relying on the promise, she had suffered a detriment.
It was found that there was no letter of wishes with the Will. Therefore, the Judge found against Ms Blyth. There was no evidence to show Mr Caudle had ever intended to gift her the bungalow and the Judge was of the belief that at the time Ms Blyth moved out of the main home, their relationship ended around this time. Had Mr Caudle truly wanted to provide for Ms Blyth, he would have done so.
Ms Blyth was ordered to leave the property and pay court fees in the sum of around £80,000.
Had Mr Caudle written a letter of wishes which intended to illustrate his intention to gift the bungalow to Ms Blyth, the outcome could have been very different. It is also relevant that if Ms Blyth was still living with Mr Caudle at the time of his death, she could have brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if she could evidence that she was dependant on him.
Kahrmann v Harrison-Morgan (2019)
Dr Kahrmann was a wealthy man and shortly after leaving his wife in 1991, he started a relationship with Ms Harrison-Morgan. They had two children and lived in a lavish home in Belgravia, London.
They later separated and Dr Kahrmann returned to Germany where he lived until he died in 2014.
When Dr Kahrmann returned to Germany, a developer offered to buy the property in London where his partner and 2 children were currently living. The offer made was contingent on the home being sold as a vacant possession – this meant Ms Harrison-Morgan along with their children would need to vacate the home before exchange of contracts. Unfortunately, Dr Kahrmann died during negotiations.
Ms Harrison-Morgan argued that a deal was made between her and the executors (incidentally Dr Kahrmann’s daughter) where the profits were to be split between his 4 children (2 from a previous marriage) and her. Therefore, the home in Belgravia was sold and the £4.4 million sale proceeds were split accordingly between Ms Harrison-Morgan (who received £2.2 million) and the children.
One of the daughters, who was also Dr Kahrmann’s executor, sued Ms Harrison-Morgan after payment had been made on the basis that there was a trust in existence with Dr Kahrmann’s business partner and therefore by making the payment directly from the buyer to Ms Harrison-Morgan, this was a clear breach of the trust terms. She argued that the money should be repaid and distributed amongst the children who were the beneficiaries of the trust.
In first instance, Ms Harrison-Morgan was successful in her claim on the grounds that she claimed the payment arrangement was made before Dr Kahrmann’s death.
The case was appealed to the Court of Appeal who overturned the decision and stated the money should be repaid to the trust which was intended for the 4 children.
Over a million pounds has already been spent in legal fees with a further £500,000 in fees from the Court of Appeal which Ms Harrison-Morgan has been ordered to pay. The case is being heard by the Supreme Court so watch this space.
Barnaby v Johnson (2019)
Yet another high-profile case which was recently heard by the High Court where a claim was brought by an unrepresented Claimant against her late mother’s Will.
Mrs Bascoe made a Will in 1992 in which she left an inheritance worth £10,0000 to each of her four children.
Following a very strained relationship with her 2 daughters, she decided to review her wishes and in 2005 instructed Mr Whynter to draft a revised Will in which she expressed that she did not wish to leave her daughters anything “beyond the legacies I have made in this Will.” She cited her daughters as being “rude, unpleasant and in some instances physically violent” behaviour towards her and for this reason she expressed her wish to leave £100 to her daughter Patricia Johnson and £500 to her other daughter Beverley. The remainder of her estate was to pass to her son Barnaby who was also a named executor alongside Mr Whynter.
Mrs Bascoe died in 2015 at the age of 96. Ms Johnson claimed her mother lacked capacity at the time the revised Will was made due to her mother showing signs of dementia in 2001 and therefore her earlier Will should take effect. She further cited claims of undue influence by her brother Barnaby along with the claim that her mothers’ signature had been forged.
It was found that whilst Mrs Bascoe did later lose capacity, at the time she made her revised Will, it was clear she had capacity. On review of medical records, it was also relevant that the family had only raised concerns of her mother suffering from dementia in 2008 which was 3 years after the revised Will had been made. Mrs Bascoe was formally diagnosed in February 2009 as suffering from Dementia.
Mr Whynter argued that there was no concern of undue influence when he took her instructions for the revised Will.
After consideration, the Judge found against Patricia Johnson and ruled the 2005 Will was indeed valid. There was no evidence of undue influence or that the signature had been forged – if this had been the case then realistically the witnesses to the Will would have been part of the alleged collusion.
Although it was clear that Mrs Bascoe had changed her mind on a number of occasions about the split of her estate before the final Will had been drawn up and that no attendance notes had been made, it was relevant that alongside the Will, Mrs Bascoe had written a letter of wishes explaining the reasons for the disproportionate sums of money to her children (as explained above) and it was very clear she did not want her daughters to benefit further from her estate.
So, what’s the take away point from all of this? Always ensure clear instructions are taken from your clients. If they wish to leave disproportionate sums to children, explore the reasons for this, ensure letter of wishes are written but more importantly ensure that as a will writer, you always take detailed notes of every meeting with the client and advise them of any risks to ensure this does not later come back to you with a potential negligence claim.
Let’s see what interesting cases 2020 holds…