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Rea v Rea: Why complex claims require expert input16th February 2021 Will Disputes
In this case, a claim was brought by Rita Rea (“Rita”) who was the daughter of the Deceased, Anna Rea (“the Deceased”). Rita sought to propound the last Will and Testament of the Deceased dated the 7 December 2015 (“the 2015 Will”). The 2015 Will left some pecuniary legacies to the Deceased’s 3 sons; however, the main asset of the estate was a property worth nearly £1m which was left to Rita only.
The Deceased’s sons all alleged that the 2015 was invalid and the previous Will, which was made in 1986 (the “1986 Will”), should be entered into probate instead. Under the 1986 Will everything was to be split equally between the 4 children.
The 3 sons, acting as litigants in person, sought to challenge the 2015 Will on various grounds, one of which was Fraudulent Calumny, a type of Undue Influence. Fraudulent Calumny is often explained as someone poisoning the mind of a testator against a particular person, and relying on that the testator then freely excludes them from their Will. Fraudulent calumny and undue influence are difficult to prove and rarely made out, and having cogent evidence is essential, as is the need to set the evidence out clearly and in a logical fashion.
At trial, the 3 sons offered no evidence to substantiate their claim that Rita had poisoned the mind of the Deceased by casting dishonest aspersions on their personality. Consequently, Deputy Master Arkush made no finding of Fraudulent Calumny. Furthermore, where the 3 sons alleged Undue Influence on Rita’s part, their evidence in support of this was Rita’s vindictive, angry and violent character. Attacking the character of an individual is not sufficient to successfully make out a Fraudulent Calumny claim and the judge stated that “the Defendants either set out to blacken Rita’s character to the court as a deliberate and dishonest aim or they have persuaded themselves that she is as bad a person as they described her”.
It comes as no surprise that the 2015 Will was admitted to probate and the 3 sons were left empty handed and what was probably a sizeable bill for costs.
This case highlights the need for early intervention from experienced lawyers. The legal principles in this area are not straightforward and gathering the appropriate evidence is vital when running complex arguments which seek to challenge a Will. In this instance, it may well have been more cost effective for the 3 sons to have engaged lawyers from the beginning. A lawyer would have been able to assess the prospects of success of each claim in turn and could have advised the 3 sons as to which claims were not worth pursuing and those which were, thereby saving considerable time and expense. Similarly, lawyers are well versed in not only gathering relevant evidence but also in presenting that evidence to the court.
It is understood that the brothers have lodged an appeal against the High Court’s decision of October 2019, with one of the grounds for appeal being the apparent failure of the Judge to adjourn the proceedings so that the 3 of them could seek legal representation. The outcome of this appeal is not yet known, but if successful, it would highlight the importance having legal representation.
For further information on Fraudulent Calumny, please see Alison Parry’s blog dated the 9th April 2020.