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Appeal Court victory for son cut out of mother’s Will

A son left with nothing after his late mother disinherited him and sold the family home she’d always promised him, has won his case in the Appeal Court.

Professor Christopher Gosden brought a negligence claim against his mother’s solicitors, on the basis that they had failed to register a legal restriction which would have prevented the unauthorised sale of her house.

As a result, Professor Gosden lost out financially and was entitled, said the Appeal Court, to damages.

With the number of inheritance disputes continuing to increase, this case illustrates the importance of taking legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure any claim has the best possible chance of success.

Background

Dr Jean Weddell, a distinguished academic, made a Will in 2003 in which she left her entire estate to her son, Professor Gosden, and his wife, Professor Jane Kaye.

At the same time, a trust designed to reduce inheritance tax – known as an estate protection scheme – was set up. Professor Gosden and Professor Kaye were appointed trustees of the scheme, along with Dr Weddell.

But in February 2010, Dr Weddell made a new Will leaving much of her estate to her civil partner, barrister Wendy Cook, and nothing to her son.

Without Professor Gosden’s knowledge, Dr Weddell’s London home was sold in 2010 for £710,000 and by the time she died in 2013 at the age of 84, there was just £5,000 Ieft in her estate.

What happened in this case?

Professor Gosden and his wife sued the firm of solicitors responsible for drawing up the trust agreement, claiming they would never have agreed to the sale of Dr Weddell’s home and had lost out financially as a result.

The scheme, they said, should have included the registration of a restriction with the Land Registry to prevent any unauthorised sale. In fact, this was never done.

The High Court initially dismissed the couple’s claim on the basis that Professor Gosden would have accepted the decision to sell the house. However, three Appeal Court judges reversed the ruling.

Lord Justice Patten said the High Court judge had been wrong to conclude that the couple would have gone along with the sale when both had… ‘concern…about Dr Weddell’s capacity and what they both regarded as the malign influence of Ms Cook in the arrangement of Dr Weddell’s affairs’.

He added: ‘What they lost through the solicitor’s negligence was the power to veto the sale.’

It has still to be decided what level of payout will be due to Professor Gosden and his wife.

Specialist legal help

For help and advice about contesting a Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate Team.

Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts & Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Law Society’s Probate Panel. All demand expertise and up-to-date knowledge from their members.

The team is praised by the independent Legal 500 Guide for 2020 for its excellent track record in dealing with high-value disputes over Wills, Trusts and Probate. It is also commended for its handling of cross-jurisdictional issues and assessing the merits of validity of Will claims and complex trust disputes.

Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is highlighted as a key lawyer, regularly representing clients in disputes relating to the Inheritance Act and contentious trust and probate matters. She is described as experienced, knowledgeable as well as ‘compassionate, understanding and non-judgemental’.

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