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The case of the 'influential' daughter… Jones v Jones

on Thursday, 14 September 2023.

In a recent court case, the family of the late Daphne Jones found themselves entangled in a dispute over her will, which left all her property to one of her four daughters, Ceri Jones.

As the story unfolds, we see how Ceri's actions led to the invalidation of the will due to undue influence, and how this serves as a cautionary tale for everyone involved in estate planning.

Daphne' story

Daphne, an elderly woman with declining health, needed more care and support in her final days. Ceri stepped in, moving in with her mother to provide assistance. However, Ceri's involvement took a darker turn as she began isolating her mother from the rest of the family. Ceri moved in with her mother after her sister Vicky's death and made it increasingly difficult for other family members to visit or speak with Daphne, creating an environment where Daphne became solely dependent on Ceri. This isolation made Daphne more vulnerable and susceptible to Ceri's influence, setting the stage for a complex legal battle over Daphne's estate.

During Ceri's time living with her mother she spread false rumours about her sisters, claiming they had taken money from their mother without her knowledge or consent. By repeating these false claims to Daphne, Ceri likely influenced her mother's beliefs and decisions regarding her estate, further driving a wedge between Daphne and the rest of her family.

When Daphne's brother Edwin tried to help her prepare a will that would share her house equally among all four daughters, Ceri intervened. It seems likely that she terminated the solicitor's instructions, ensuring that the will would be prepared according to her wishes, which included inheriting the house herself.

Ceri also played a significant role in the preparation of the will, which was executed without the involvement of a solicitor or a further medical examination. Despite her attempts to distance herself from the making of the will, the court found it likely that Ceri was heavily involved in its creation, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the document. Ceri also interfered with a social worker's attempts to assess her mother's capacity. By blocking the social worker's access, Ceri further complicated the situation and made it more difficult for the court to determine the true intentions of Daphne regarding her estate.

After the will was signed, Ceri misled police officers by claiming that her mother had been assessed as having capacity and had signed documents in front of a solicitor. The court found this to be untrue and instead, considered that it was further evidence of Ceri's attempts to control the situation surrounding her mother's will. This deception by Ceri raised even more questions about the validity of the will and the circumstances surrounding its creation.

Ceri's actions, combined with Daphne's physical and mental vulnerabilities, led the court to conclude that the will was the product of undue influence exerted by Ceri. As a result, the will was declared invalid, and, as Daphne had not made an earlier will, the court ruled that her estate should be  administered based on the law of intestacy. As a consequence, Daphne's assets will now be divided equally between her four daughters rather than Ceri inheriting her whole estate as she had planned  with the provisions of the now-invalid will

This case highlights the importance of ensuring that a person's wishes are genuinely their own and not the result of undue influence by others - easier said than done. It is notoriously difficult to gather direct evidence of undue influence especially in circumstances where one member of a family or a new care giver has entered an elderly person's life and has set about isolating that person.

Daphne's story is sadly all too familiar to our Contentious Trusts and Probate team who have dealt with many similar cases over the years. We are well versed in forensically identifying and gathering the evidence which is needed to ensure a person's true final wishes are respected and upheld.

A stich in time

If you know of a situation where you suspect an elderly person might be the subject of undue influence please do get in touch. We can advise on the steps which can be taken in a person's lifetime which might help to avoid the situation which Daphne's family sadly had to contend with as well avoiding the legal costs which will have undoubtedly eroded the value of Daphne's estate.

It may be of comfort for you to know that our Wills and Estates team are always on high alert in respect of spotting these sorts of suspicious circumstances. All members of the team are trained to look out for the red flags which call for the assistance of our contentious team to help avoid a future dispute.

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