Charities refuse to go down without a fight

23 August 2017

When Ms Leaning died in 2015 she purported to make a Will that left her entire £340,000 estate to her partner, Mr Guest, on the proviso that he look after her three beloved dogs. This Will was handwritten and witnessed by two neighbours. However, under Ms Leaning’s 2007 Will, she had left her entire estate to the Dogs Trust, World Animal Protection, Friends of the Animals and Heart Research UK.

Upon Ms Leaning’s death, when the charities became aware that the Will from 2015 was going to be used to obtain a grant of probate, their lawyers entered a caveat to try and prevent this from happening. Whilst there is no official court record relating to this case, it has been reported in the media that the Will from 2015 is being challenged on the basis that the piece of paper with the signature of Ms Leaning and the witnesses on was not attached to the main body of the Will.

This suggests that the basis of the charities claim is that the 2015 Will did not adhere to the formalities required by law under section 9 Wills Act 1837. These formalities are that the Will must be in writing, it must be signed by the testator in the relevant place, it must be witnessed by two people and a beneficiary under the Will cannot act as a witness.

It is worth noting that in cases such as these, claims often settle out of court as legal fees can quickly escalate. The media has reported that Mr Guest has already incurred fees of £10,000 and that he has offered the charities £60,000 and the house on trust, to settle the case, but that the offer has been rejected. It looks like we will have to wait and see what the court decides before we can find out the verifiable detail of this case.

The charities are getting a certain level of abuse in the media about their decision to challenge the Will of Ms Leaning. However, after the Supreme Court's decision earlier this year in Ilott v the Blue Cross [2017] in which the court upheld the Will of a lady who left her entire estate to charity, albeit granting the deceased's estranged daughter £50,000 from the estate, it is understandable that charities now have the confidence to take a stand.

Whether you want to make a claim on an estate or whether you are charged with defending a claim on an estate, you need specialist advice. Our Contentious Trust and Probate Team deal with this type of work on a daily basis, and can provide advice not only on this very niche area of law but also on the best strategy and cost effective solution for your case. If you have any queries please contact Bernadette Baker or a member of the Contentious Trust and Probate Team or Estate Planning and Wills Team.