Couple Challenged Over £10m Will

Family in Will Dispute

29.11.2007

29/11/2007

The family of a wealthy property owner who died at the age of 89 in 2004 are challenging her will in the High Court after it was revealed that most of her £10m fortune to a Chinese restaurant owner.

Five nieces and nephews claim that Mrs Bechal who lived in Mayfair, London was suffering from dementia when the will was made. The Man family however claim to have had a long standing friendship with the widow who lost both her husband and son in the 1970's.

Relatives of Mrs Bechal are asking that the will be ruled invalid and that they should inherit the money. Counsel have drawn attention to photographs documenting the friendship between the Man's and Mrs Bechal who was present at the opening of the restaurant in 1969.

The family were also invited to attend holidays with the wealthy widow who invited them to Jerusalem and Cannes.

In court, Counsel stated that there was evidence to show that Mrs Bechal's relationship with her real family had deteriorated. When questioned, Mr Man stated that he had never spoken to Mrs Bechal about her will.

Estate Disputes

Adam Draper, of the specialist Wills and Trusts Disputes team at National law firm Irwin Mitchell, based at its offices in Sheffield's Riverside, says this case highlights how arguments over estates can tear families apart.

Mr Draper explained: "Ms Bechal could have made as many wills in her lifetime as she wanted, but, all things being equal, it is her final one which will decide how his estate is divided-up and the dispute resolved.

"In order to execute a Will a testator must have the requisite mental capacity to make a Will."

As a result the person making the Will:-

  1. Must understand he is making a Will
  2. Understand that the effect of the Will is to dispose of his assets after his death.
  3. Understand (in a broad sense) what assets are disposed by the Will.
  4. Must be able to review the beneficiaries who may have a claim on his estate.
  5. Must not be suffering from a mental illness which affects his ability to decide the destination of the estate.
  6. Must not suffer from a delusional mental illness which has the effect that the disposal would not have been made but for the delusion.

If it can be shown that the deceased failed to satisfy any of the above elements of the Will, the will be invalid for lack of capacity. It is therefore important to look at a testator's capacity at the time they provided instructions with regard to the Will.

Wills and Trusts Disputes

Mr Draper continued: "If Ms Bechal's Will is deemed invalid due to her lack of capacity, her estate will be distributed in accordance with the rules on intestacy. In this case, Ms Bechal's 5 nieces and nephews are arguing that her Will is invalid due to lack of capacity and that Ms Bechal's estate should be distributed in accordance with the rules on Intestacy.

"As a matter of good practice, courts recommended that wills drawn up for old or seriously ill people were witnessed by doctors, who ought to record their examinations and findings.

"Where a testator is very old or ill, relatives should consult a solicitor in advance about formalities for executing the will and obtaining medical evidence.

"Ensure that witnesses to a will are reliable, competent and likely to live longer than the testator. If there is a dispute, they may be required to confirm their opinion of the testator's capacity.

"If you marry, seek legal advice about a will, as marriage automatically revokes an earlier will.

"Consult a solicitor if you doubt the deceased's capacity or are suspicious about the circumstances surrounding a will's execution."