Vanessa Schomberg & Ors v David Taylor & 6 Ors (2013)
A court found that the last will and testament of a deceased had been executed as a result of the undue influence of a person whose children were the principal beneficiaries of that will and under which the deceased's step-children were largely disinherited. The court found in favour of the previous will under which the deceased's step-children were equally entitled to the residuary estate.
The court was required to determine which of two competing wills of the deceased (D) ought to be propounded in solemn form.
The first and second defendants (D and P), who were the step-sons of D, alleged that their mother's last will and testament (the 2008 will) had been the product of the undue influence of the eighth defendant (P), the father of the fifth to seventh defendants (N), who were D's nieces and nephews, and the principal beneficiaries under the 2008 will. Under the terms of the preceding will (the 2005 will), D and P were equally entitled to the residuary estate, while under the 2008 will their entitlements were legacies of £10,000 each. There were no issues surrounding D's testamentary capacity in relation to either will, although the original 2005 will was not before the court. In essence, it was D and P's case that at a time when D was physically and mentally frail shortly following the death of her husband, P had pressured her through his persistence into making a will which benefitted P's three children which effectively overbore D's volition with the effect that she did what P wanted, rather than what she herself judged to be best, in order to lead a quiet life. On the evidence of a former personal assistant to D's husband, D had told her not to put any calls from P through to her as he had been calling her urging her to disinherit D and P in preference to his own children, and that P had consequently taken to calling when he knew he could get through directly to D. There was also evidence that P had fallen into financial difficulty, following the collapse of an Icelandic bank. The first claimant (S), D's solicitor, described D at the time she attended D's home for the 2008 will as being somewhat frail and unwell and she had wanted S to check what the terms of the 2005 will were. Aside from D and P, no other party took an active role in the instant proceedings. The issue was whether D had been unduly influenced by P in the execution of the 2008 will.
In order to succeed, D and P had to prove on the balance of probabilities, and on the basis of sufficiently cogent evidence, that D's will was overborne by P's coercion in executing the 2008 will, and that explanation had to stand in preference to any other explanation for the impugned will, Cowderoy v Cranfield  EWHC 1616 (Ch),  W.T.L.R. 1699 applied. In the light of the evidence before the court, D and P proved all of the matters that were key to establishing undue influence: there was no doubt that after the death of her husband, D was in a very fragile mental and physical state, so much was borne out by the evidence and the specific context surrounding the making of the 2008 will; there was cogent evidence that P had subjected D to unwanted pressure and did so so persistently that D was driven to the point to tell another that she did want to speak to P whenever he rang the house; there was cogent evidence that pressure from P had so worn her down that she was prepared to do what P suggested in order to have a quiet life; there was no obvious explanation why D and P would have been virtually excluded from the 2008 will when under earlier wills provision had been made for them to take the residuary estate equally; evidence to the effect that D and P had not been close to D was incorrect in the light of the whole evidence and seemed to be proffered to explain why D would have made substantive provision for N with whom she had little to do with over the years; it was doubtful that all of the substantial assets in D's estate came from her own family, and the shock of those close to D when they discovered the terms of the 2008 will could not be ignored. Furthermore, P had a motive to coerce D: not only did his children benefit, but he had his own financial difficulties following the collapse of a bank with which he had invested and P looked to his children's inheritance as a means of obtaining financial security. All of those factors provided firm evidence that the 2008 will did not reflect D's true will. Further submissions were invited regarding the appropriate declaration in relation to the 2005 will.
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16 Jan 2013