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High Court sets aside Will of elderly man whose mind was ‘poisoned’ by his daughter

The number of elderly and vulnerable people being manipulated and deceived by unscrupulous relatives into re-writing their Will is set to increase, legal experts predict.

Cases based on what’s known as fraudulent calumny – when someone with mental capacity is tricked into changing their Will through fraud – are becoming more common.

With an ageing population and more people living longer, the number of people vulnerable to influence towards the end of their lives can only rise yet fraudulent calumny is often difficult and complicated to prove in a Will dispute.

Lies and more lies – what happened in this case of fraudulent calumny?

Gerald Whittle died at the age of 92 in 2016 just weeks after writing his Will in which he left his £1million estate to his daughter Sonia and her partner, Ray Spicer, and some old cars to his son, David.

The High Court in Bristol heard how Sonia had turned her father, who was frail and dependent on her at the time, against David with a string of false accusations.

She told Gerald Whittle that David was a violent criminal who assaulted women, committed criminal damage and stole money from members of his own family.

She also told him that David’s wife was a prostitute and that he lived off her immoral earnings.

Did the High Court judge believe her claims?

Far from it. The court found that Gerald Whittle was peddled a series of lies designed to ensure that he left everything to Sonia Whittle and not her brother, who challenged the Will.

Judge Tony Woodburn set aside the Will and ruled it invalid on the grounds that it was obtained fraudulently and through undue influence.

He said it was a ‘disgraceful’ and ‘appalling’ attempt by Sonia Whittle to cut a rightful beneficiary, her brother David, out of a Will and minimise his ability to challenge it. Her ordered her to pay the courts of the court case.

Is it easy to prove fraudulent calumny?

No, but when the mind of the testator (the person making the Will) seems to have been poisoned against a particular beneficiary, typically by the person who is going to do a lot better out of it as a result, it may be the only possible claim.

To prove fraudulent calumny, the testator must have written or changed their Will based on false statements and lies. It’s not that they didn’t have the mental capacity to make these decisions but rather that they made these decisions because they were misled.

To dispute a Will proving fraudulent calumny, a series of strict legal requirements must be met. This is often difficult because by the time the fraud is discovered, the testator has usually died and proof of what happened may be thin on the ground.

That’s why, if you suspect fraudulent calumny, collecting evidence at the earliest opportunity while the testator is still alive may prove crucial.

Get in touch

The number of people disputing a loved one’s Will is rising fast.

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 2023 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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