High Court Estate Dispute ‘Highlights Dangers Of Deathbed Wills’

Ruling 'Highlights Need To Think Of The Future'

12.12.2011

An estate dispute specialist at Irwin Mitchell is urging people to make sure they write a Will and have their affairs in order at the earliest possible stage, after a High Court battle revealed the difficulties caused by decisions made on the deathbed.

The three daughters of businessman George Wharton have lost their court battle to gain access to a share of his £4 million fortune, which has been left to their stepmother Maureen who married him just days before he died.

While the trio – Victoria Wharton, Amanda Wharton and Gina Fagin – took the dispute to court claiming Maureen had exerted “undue influence” on their father, a judge ruled that Mr Wharton had made the conscious decision to change his Will on the day he married her in 2008.

Mr Wharton moved in with Maureen in 1976 and the judge suggested that many people believed they were already wed.

Commenting on the case, Adam Draper, a solicitor in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team, said it demonstrated why people should always put provisions in place over how they want their estate to be treated upon death as soon as possible.

He outlined: “If the reports on this case highlight anything, it is that proper planning and communication over how you would like your estate to be divided when you die offers major benefits to loved ones.

“Like many of the cases we work on, this scenario shows the long-running, emotional trauma that disputes can lead to. We would always advise that people sit with their families at the earliest opportunity and talk through how and why they have made decisions in relation to their assets.

“Such a move can spare so much heartache in the long term.”

Adam added that the case also raises further points, particularly on the impact that marriage has on a Will.

He said: “Getting married automatically revokes any earlier will, so it is vital that people are aware of this and are prepared to update their Wills when they do tie the knot.

“In addition, it is worth noting that marriage offers some benefits in terms of tax, as spouses can inherit tax-free. This is an important issue to note, as unmarried partners have no standing on intestacy.

“We would urge people to ensure they always keep their Wills up-to-date and ensure their family and friends are well aware of their intentions and the reasons behind them.”

If you are involved in a will dispute or need further information about contesting a will, please visit our Will, Trust & Estate Disputes section