Schomberg v Taylor
High Court, Chancery Division
(2013) January 16th, reported Westlaw.
The High Court determined a challenge to an elderly Testatrix’s 2008 Will based upon undue influence. The 2008 Will had all but cut out her stepsons from her Estate and made provision instead for her brother in law’s adult children. In the previous 2005 Will, the Testatrix had left her stepsons equal shares in her £600,000 estate. The Testatrix having explained to her solicitors that she was changing her Will because she and her dead spouse had not been close to her stepsons. There was evidence at trial from family friends that this was not true and her decision to cut them out was inexplicable save that she was very weak and frail at the time. There was evidence that her brother in law had behin the scenes been pestering her with phone calls to ‘remember his children in her Will’, that she had been in a ‘dreadful state’ and ‘didn’t know what to do’ and that she had asked her carer not to put any more of his phone calls through to her as she didn’t want to speak to him.
HELD the 2008 Will was invalid through the undue influence of the brother in law who had a clear financial motive to exert undue influence. He had financial difficulties and there was some evidence that he was proposing to borrow his children’s putative inheritance under the 2008 Will. Contrary to what the Testatrix had told her solicitor, there was evidence (including photographs) of family meetings and a close relationship between the Testatrix and her stepsons. She had been widowed only a few months before making the 2008 Will and whilst she had testamentary capacity, she had been ill, was physically weak, frail and vulnerable to pressure. The Court was satisfied that the brother in law had sapped the free will and volition of the Testatrix to a sufficient degree to mean the 2008 Will was not her true testamentary disposition. Accordingly, the Court pronounced for the 2005 Will and gave the executor permission to seek to admit the same to probate.
Craig Barlow acted for the executor, instructed by J Garrard & Allen solicitors.