Posted on 28th September 2011

High Court Ruling Highlights Will Challenge Dangers

Latimer Hinks Solicitors say a recent High Court case, which centred on a pensioner cutting her family out of her estate, highlights the dangers of challenging a will.

The case, which was heard in London, was instigated by Leigh Cowderoy to challenge the will of her late grandmother, Helen Blofield, on grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity and that Helen Blofield did not know nor approve the contents of her will.

Mrs Cowderoy lost the case and was left potentially facing her own legal fees and those of Lionel Cranfield, Helen Blofields neighbour and the beneficiary under the will.

Mrs Blofield had made her will in November 2006, the same year her son Mrs Cowderoys father died. Contact with her granddaughter was described as few and far between, while Mr Cranfield provided help and support in the years leading up to her death.

Mr Justice Morgan ruled the will had been made of Mrs Blofields free will, she had the necessary testamentary capacity and that she knew the contents of her will. He ruled that Mr Cranfield was entitled to the full £150,000 estate while taking into account that Mrs Blofield had both good and bad days.

One of Darlington and County Durhams longest established law firms, Latimer Hinks Solicitors has an experienced team of experts in the field of wills and probate, led by Partners Anne Elliott and Andrew Way. Helen Thomas a Solicitor in the firms private client department is studying to become a member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists to further enhance the firms experience in the area of contested wills, probate and trust matters.

Helen said: "People need to learn from cases such as this. Wills are very emotive subjects and it is natural that a person cut out of a relatives will would wish to fight any perceived injustice.

"However in England and Wales an individual is free to leave his or her estate to whoever they wish and the courts are reluctant to interfere with this unless reasonable financial provision has not been made for a dependant.

"The Courts look at the actions of all the parties and the deceased. They assess the character and motive of each party. In this case Mrs Cowderoy was found by the court to be hostile to Mr Cranfield, ready to think the worst of him at all times, and to have an obvious interest in the outcome all of which led her to be over ready to misdescribe matters.

"Consequently Mrs Cowderoy lost and was not only left without any inheritance, but was also faced with significant legal fees.

Reports of the case highlight Mrs Cowderoy, who had legal representation in the case, took the matter forward as a point of principal.

Helen said: "With any legal action, the first advice of a trained lawyer would be to ensure that you have a significant chance of winning the case based on the evidence available, and cases of undue influence can be very difficult to prove.

"An independent lawyer would objectively look at the facts and the evidence of all witnesses, questioning it as necessary.

"The lawyer would also be able to assess whether the court is likely to determine that "sides had been taken which could be perceived by the court to distort the recollection of witnesses.

"Many specialist lawyers might have advised against going to trial and Mrs Cowderoy may have cut her losses.