Daughter's inheritance restored

Posted: 2nd September 2013

ShadowsA woman who was cut out of her seriously ill father's substantial estate after he fell prey to a friend’s undue influence, and developed an irrational conviction that she was not his daughter, has had her inheritance restored.

The father, a former oil rig worker, was extremely close to his daughter and her three children until about two years before his death, aged 64. By then he was suffering from a range of serious physical and mental ailments, including prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease, anxiety and depression. A consultant who examined him in the year before he died had described him as 'almost catatonic'.

Just over a year before he died, he had made a will leaving his entire estate to a woman friend who he had met two years earlier. However, in declaring the will invalid, a County Court judge found that the ‘bewildered and confused’ father had lacked the legal capacity to make a valid will, had not had the required knowledge and approval of the document’s contents and had acted under the undue influence of the woman who became his sole beneficiary.

The daughter had accused the friend of dominating and manipulating her sick father at a time when his health was in steep decline and he was lonely and depressed following the traumatic breakdown of his marriage. The judge found that he could not rely upon the friend’s evidence and that her account of a crucial meeting with a solicitor at which the will was discussed was 'untruthful'.

Expressing concern that the father had not understood the extent of the property of which he was disposing or comprehended the legitimate claims of his daughter and grandchildren, the judge noted that his belief that she was not his daughter was wholly inexplicable and may well have been the result of the mental disorder from which he was suffering.

The friend insisted that she had only ever followed the father’s wishes, that his will was explained by his deteriorating relationship with his daughter and that he made her his heir in recognition of the assistance and care she gave him in his final years without reward.

Noting that the circumstances in which the will was signed by the highly vulnerable father gave rise to a ‘high degree of suspicion’, the judge found that he was at the time 'infirm and vulnerable' and 'a shadow of his former self'. He had placed complete trust and confidence in his friend and she had failed to show that he signed the will in the exercise of his own free will.

The judge’s ruling meant that the father died intestate and that his daughter is entitled to his entire estate. The Court also found that the father had entered into a series of financial and property transactions shortly before he died which were to the manifest advantage of his friend and had been procured by her undue influence. The decision opened the way for those transactions to be untangled to ensure that the daughter receives her full inheritance.