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Sister Successfully Challenges Mother's Will in High Court Battle With Sibling

on Thursday, 25 February 2016.

Sister successfully challenges mother's Will in High Court battle with sibling - Watts v Watts [2014] EWHC 668(Ch) - but has the law on Inheritance Act claims become any clearer?

Will Challenge

Valerie Watts died on 26 February 2011 leaving her entire £200,000 estate to her son, Gary Watts.  Valerie's last Will dated 12 January 2011 ('2011 Will') had been made at a time when she was on heavy doses of antibiotics and morphine, as she was in hospital being treated for cancer.

Valerie had made a previous Will in 1999 ('1999 Will'), leaving her estate equally to Gary, and her daughter, Christine Watts.

In October 2011, Christine Watts, issued proceedings under section 1(1)(c) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, as she claimed that the 2011 Will did not make reasonable financial provision for her.  In December 2012, Christine also issued proceedings to challenge the validity of the 2011 Will.

The Court heard how the 2011 Will had been written at Valerie's bedside by her sister, Yvonne Schooling, and supposedly witnessed by Yvonne and a staff nurse on duty at the time, Nurse Brown.

Handwriting Evidence

Christine relied on evidence from handwriting expert, Dr Giles, which concluded that there was 'very strong positive evidence' to suggest that Valerie did not sign the 2011 Will.  Whilst the signature was a very good likeness to Valerie's signature on her 2010 driving licence and 1999 Will, Valerie's more recent signature on a hospital form was by contrast 'very shaky' and the letters 'poorly formed'.

Nurse Brown's statement also made it clear that Gary had misled her about the nature of the document she was to sign, and the only person she had seen sign the document that she was asked to witness was Gary himself.  It also emerged that Gary had later visited Nurse Brown in hospital to give her a note, which set out what she should say to Christine's solicitors when questioned about witnessing the 2011 Will.

Inheritance Act Claim

In relation to the 1975 Act proceedings, Gary claimed that Christine had 'not done anything to get a job' and had simply been waiting for Valerie to die, and also suggested that Christine had 'severe medical problems'.  Gary declared that he was much closer to his mother than Christine, and this was why Valerie had changed her Will.  It was also declared that, because Christine had issued the 1975 Act proceedings first, Christine had impliedly accepted the validity of the 2011 Will.

Judge Catherine Newman QC considered that it was possible for Christine to make both claims, as they were conceptually different.  She concluded that Gary had forged his mother's signature, and therefore declared the 2011 Will invalid.  The Judge also held that, if the 2011 Will had not been set aside, she would have ordered that Christine receive half her mother's estate as reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act.

This illustrates how difficult it is for practitioners to determine what a 1975 Act award will be.  This case is unusual in that it simply orders the estate to be divided equally and does not analyse the financial needs in detail.

If you would like to discuss any ongoing Inheritance Act claims, please do feel free to contact Marianne Nankervis on 0117 314 5494.

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