The England & Wales High Court has upheld a will executed on his deathbed by a man who left everything to his long-term partner. Judith Dennerly, a partner at Sedgwick Legal said, “The law provides individuals with wide discretion on how their estate should be distributed on their death; although there are specific circumstances under which this discretion can be challenged”.
The challenge in this case was brought by the man's daughters, who alleged that the will was written under the undue influence of the man’s partner. The sequence of events leading up to the new will was unusual and, as the judge accurately noted “may be expected to heighten family tension”. The man had been suffering from terminal cancer and, when told he had only days to live, he returned home from hospital to settle his affairs. He immediately married his partner of 32 years and, just before the ceremony, he executed the contentious will making his partner his sole beneficiary. The will was made ‘in contemplation of the marriage’. He died three days later.
The testator's three daughters challenged the deathbed will, claiming that undue influence had been used to make their father execute a document that was contrary to his wishes. However, the judge disagreed, finding that: "He quite plainly understood marriage as a solution to the inheritance tax problem which overhung the business that he and his partner had created and for which he had made no provision".
Judith comments “Whilst there are circumstances when a will can be challenged by a person’s dependents, this does not mean that close relatives have an automatic right to receive money from a will”.
If you would like assistance in writing or reviewing your will, call Judith Dennerly at Sedgwick Legal on 0161 653 5299 for further information.