A Fight to the Death (After Death)

14th February 2020 Will Disputes

A recent case has seen family members feuding over an estate of approximately £800,000 in a bitter dispute described by the Judge as a “fight to the death”.

Shirley Guymer passed away in 2016, leaving no spouse or children. Ms Guymer wrote a Will in 2014 which split 95% of her estate equally between her 11 nieces and nephews. However, two months before her death, the Will was altered in order to leave Ms Guymer’s property (by far the largest element of her estate, valued at approximately £650,000) to her brother, Mr Crook and his two sons. Under the terms of the new Will, the remaining limited estate was to be divided between the remaining 9 nieces and nephews.

Ms Guymer’s sister, Ms Stoner contested the new Will. She was concerned that Ms Guymer lacked testamentary capacity to execute a new Will at the time, did not have the required knowledge and understanding of the contents of the new Will and that Mr Crook had coerced her into making it meaning that it was not valid.

This dispute was heard in London County Court and was resolved this week on the eighth day of the trial, when Mr Crook and his two sons agreed that the later Will was not valid. It was therefore accepted that the initial Will which was drafted in 2014 and divided 95% of Ms Guymer’s estate between her nieces and nephews should stand.

However, in order to reach this settlement, both parties were involved in a dispute which lasted 4 years following Ms Guymer’s death and involved 8 days in Court. During the 4 years and at the trial allegations were made, that are now a matter of public knowledge, that questioned Mr Crook’s integrity and honesty (specifically it was suggested that he had “stitched up an old lady”) and it is likely that it has understandably resulted in a breakdown in amicable relations between the family members.

The above case highlights the difficulties with claims of this nature.  One consequence is the almost inevitable irreparable breakdown in family relations as well as the years spent arguing about it, likely high legal costs and a reduced fund available to distribute amongst those who the Deceased wished to benefit.  Seeking legal advice at an early stage can encourage an agreed resolution that might avoid the situation from escalating to this degree and save some element of family relations and minimise the effect on the estate to be distributed.

At JMW, we are experts in seeking early resolutions to these matters if that is what our clients are seeking in order to preserve family relationships.  Equally, we are also equipped to have a “fight to the death” if that is what is called for.  Either way, it is important to seek legal advice at an early stage to ensure that you are fully informed and advised of the best way to proceed dependent on the particular circumstances of the dispute and what you are looking to achieve.

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Alison Parry is a Partner located in Manchester in our Will and Trust Disputes department

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