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Changing a Will and undue influence – what do you need to know?

A man accused by his nephew of ‘bullying’ his elderly mother into changing her Will to net himself a bigger slice has been cleared by the High Court of any wrongdoing.

It’s the latest example of a bitter and contracted inheritance dispute involving close family members – something that three in four people are now likely to experience in their lifetime.

In this case, as in many, problems began when late changes to a Will meant a family member’s inheritance was dramatically reduced as a result.

However, the judge rejected the allegations of undue influence and declared 98-year-old Pamela Abdelnoor’s final amended Will to be valid.

‘Undue influence’ – what happened in this case?

Jason Abdelnoor was accused by his nephew, Elten Barker, of putting pressure on Pamela Abdelnoor to amend her Will the year before she died.

This Will, made in 2018, reduced the amount that Elten and his sister Shelley would inherit from their grandmother to about £27,000 each. A previous Will had left them £280,000 to share.

Under the updated Will, Jason Abdelnoor and his sister Gillian Gibson, had their share of their mother’s estate increased from £480,000 to £600,000 between them.

Elten Barker claimed that his uncle exerted ‘an overwhelming degree of influence’ over his frail and unwell mother and suggested that she ‘no longer had the strength to stand up to him.’

He also claimed that he had a special bond with Pamela. He had moved in next door to help her as she became more unwell. As a result, he said, she would have wanted him to have a bigger share of her estate.

What counts as coercion when it comes to a Will?

The court heard that Pamela, a retired bookkeeper was a shrewd and intelligent woman who kept active control of her finances throughout her life, helped by Jason in later years.

She had the terms of her 2018 Will clearly explained to her by her solicitor and was adamant that she wanted all her 11 grandchildren, including Elten and Shelley, ‘to receive the same’.

Judge Pester said that Pamela, though frail, was mentally capable enough to ‘know and approve the Will’.

He concluded: “Having heard Jason’s evidence, I do not accept that he coerced Pamela into making the 2018 Will.

“I have been critical of Jason’s evidence in certain respects, in particular the attacks he made in his witness evidence on Elten’s character. However, it would be an unwarranted leap from that to a finding that he coerced his mother into making the 2018 Will.”

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This case shows that if someone has testamentary capacity and knows and understands what they are doing, they are free to make and change their Will as many times as they want.

It also illustrates that even making dramatic changes doesn’t necessarily mean that the testator has come under pressure from a family member.

If you would like to contest or defend a Will, the help of a specialist lawyer is vital as every case needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Time limits also apply.

For help and advice, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate Team.

Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and 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 a high level of expertise and up to date knowledge from their members.

Wards Solicitors’ team is praised by the Legal 500 Guide for 2022 for its broad contentious trusts and probate practice with a particular emphasis on Inheritance Act and Court of Protection matters.

Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is highlighted as a key lawyer specialising in high value and multi-jurisdictional matters.

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