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Inheritance disputes – why the High Court ruled that Jean Lech was free to leave her estate to exactly who she wanted

A woman furious that her stepmother had cut her out of her £1.2 million Will in favour of her cleaner and a ‘fake’ nephew has lost her inheritance battle at the High Court.

Not only did Judge Mark Cawson QC dismiss Anna St Clair’s allegations of fraud as ‘pure fantasy’ he also refused to accept that 79-year-old Jean Lech lacked the testamentary capacity to change her Will, despite allegations of eccentric behaviour.

Throwing out the case, and describing Mrs Lech as someone who knew her own mind, he said: “In any event, it is entirely open to a testator to act unfairly, vindictively, perversely, or otherwise irrationally, although I recognise that, in appropriate circumstances, such conduct might point to the possibility at least of a lack of testamentary capacity.”

The case shows clearly that however upset you may be if you are passed over in a Will, if that Will has been properly prepared and executed by a specialist solicitor you are unlikely to have a claim.

In short, testamentary autonomy means you have the freedom to leave your estate to whoever you like.

What happened in this case?

When Jean Lech died in 2012, she left the majority of her estate, principally a half share of the £2 million house in London she’d co-owned with her late husband, to her nephew, Nick King, with whom she’d only recently established contact.

She left £10,000 to her cleaner, June Farrell, plus similar gifts to Mrs Farrell’s two children.

Ms St Clair, Mr Lech’s daughter, who had previously been the main beneficiary of Mrs Lech’s 2007 Will, was left nothing at all in the revised Will of 2009.

On what basis did the claimant try to have the Will declared invalid?

Ms St Clair claimed that Mr King was not a blood relative of Mrs Lech but an imposter – despite DNA evidence and a birth certificate proving otherwise – and that he and Mrs Farrell had hatched a plan to ensure Mrs Lech left them her estate.

She also told the court that Mrs Lech had an anti-social personality disorder which, combined with her failing health, meant the Will was also invalid because she lacked testamentary capacity.

In addition, she claimed that the Will made by Mrs Lech at the same time as her late husband was a mutual Will and therefore could not be changed once he had died and she had inherited his estate.

Dismissing all these claims, Judge Cawson ruled that Ms St Clair was not a reliable witness, that she was ‘engaging in pure fantasy’ and was motivated by a ‘genuinely held sense of grievance’.

Get in touch

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.

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 expertise and up-to-date knowledge from their members.

The team is praised by the Legal 500 Guide for 2022 for its broad contentious trust 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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