WELCOME TO CHARLES RUSSELL SPEECHLYS.
We would like to place strictly necessary cookies and performance cookies on your computer to improve our website service.
Otherwise, we'll assume you are OK to continue. Please close this message
Following a 4 day hearing in February Judge Catherine Newman QC handed down her judgment in the matter of Watts v Watts, a highly contested action between adopted siblings.
Christine Watts brought her claim against her brother, Gary Watts on two counts:
These two heads of claim may not be thought to sit well together, given that in making a 1975 Act claim for reasonable financial provision from Valerie’s estate, Christine could be said to have accepted the validity of the will, despite the second head of claim being pleaded in the alternative.
The effect of a 1975 Act claim for reasonable financial provision in circumstances where the claimant may also seek to bring a challenge to the validity of the will was considered in detail previously in Pinnock v Rochester  EWHC 4049 (Ch).
In this case, the deceased’s son had brought a claim against the deceased’s sister (the claimant’s aunt) challenging the validity of the will.
However, he had previously brought a claim against the estate under the 1975 Act, which was settled in the sum of £28,000.
In defending the challenge to the validity of the will, it was asserted that the claimant had at least impliedly accepted the validity of the will in the previous 1975 Act proceedings (because it was that will that did not make sufficient provision) and accordingly, could not now bring a challenge in relation to the validity of the will.
The court considered whether the settlement under the 1975 Act proceedings precluded the claimant from challenging the validity of the will, as asserted by the defendant, on the basis that he had accepted that the will was valid in his previous claim from the estate.
The court held that it was possible for the claimant to make both claims as they were conceptually different, despite the claimant having impliedly accepted the validity of the will in the initial 1975 Act proceedings.
The will in question in the present matter was alleged by Gary to have been executed by Valerie shortly before her death leaving her £200,000 estate to Gary alone.
It was handwritten, having been drafted by Valerie’s sister, using a DIY will kit purchased from WHSmith. The will directly contradicted Valerie’s previous will which divided her estate equally between Christine and Gary, Valerie’s adopted adult children.
Christine relied on expert evidence in relation to the signature alleged to be Valerie’s.
There was no question as to Valerie’s capacity, although the court considered Valerie’s ability to execute her signature given her failing health.
Gary confirmed that he had visited Valerie every day and criticised Christine for not visiting Valerie in hospital, which he suggested was the reason for Valerie’s decision to change her will.
Gary later admitted to misleading one of the witnesses as to the nature of the document they were signing, as he did not reveal that the document she was signing was Valerie’s will.
Further, that witness did not see Valerie sign the will, although she did report seeing Gary sign a document that she later learned was a will.
Gary defended Christine’s 1975 Act claim for reasonable financial provision, asserting that Christine had “done nothing to get a job” whilst waiting for Valerie to die in the expectation that her inheritance would ease her dire financial situation, which was exacerbated by her unemployment.
Judge Catherine Newman QC preferred Christine’s evidence and held that the will was invalid as on the evidence before her, she found that Gary had forged Valerie’s signature.
Accordingly, Valerie’s previous will should be proved dividing her estate equally between Gary and Christine.
However, despite the above, which meant that no further consideration of the 1975 Act claim was required, Judge Catherine Newman QC addressed Christine’s 1975 Act claim for financial provision in detail.
She considered that despite the fact that “Christine may not be doing all she can to help herself return to…work” and that that undoubtedly contributed to Christine’s financial needs from her mother’s £200,000 estate, she would have ordered (had the will been valid) that Christine should receive half her mother’s estate as “reasonable financial provision” in any event.
This is yet another case along the Ilott v Mitson & others  EWHC 542 (Fam) line of authorities concerning claims brought by adult children who believe that their parent has not made sufficient provision for them in their will.
Historically, it was thought that such claims were unlikely to succeed where there was no financial dependency by the child on the parent.
However, the current climate and recent cases suggest that such claims, in estates of both high and low value, are not only more prevalent, but are more likely to succeed where sufficient provision has not been made by a parent for their children.
This is a clear warning to those attempting to write a child or child of the family out of their will – the exclusion of children from a will before the age of majority or otherwise, or an attempt to provide only a minor interest to a child in a will, whether that child is financially dependant on the testator or not, is likely to be successfully challenged in many cases.
Testators will need to give careful thought to how their affairs can best be structured to avoid a situation whereby their wishes are challenged in a 1975 Act claim at the appropriate time.
This article was written by Duncan Elson.
For more information please contact Duncan on +44 (0)1483 25 25794 or email@example.com