When contesting a Will goes horribly wrong

Do you think an adult beneficiary should ever challenge a parent’s Will? This subject often gets people hot under the collar.

Father v. Daughter

In a recently heard case, Sonya Young, from Glamorgan in Wales, did just that. Her father, Brian Cole, had changed his Will 25 days before he took his own life in 2013. The Will only left Mrs Young £5,000, but left £268,000 to the RNLI. He was well connected with RNLI, having served for them.

The basis of Mrs Young’s argument was that her father did not have capacity to make a Will (testamentary capacity). While on the face of it this may seem reasonable, there was ample evidence to persuade the Court that in fact Mr Cole did have testamentary capacity. This included letters he sent to Mrs Young explaining his actions and the fact that the Solicitor who prepared the Will had known him for 8 years.

Interestingly, Mr Cole had made a Will in 2008 leaving most of his estate to his daughter. In 2012 he made a new Will largely disinheriting his daughter. We are assuming that Mrs Young was also claiming that he lacked capacity to make the 2012 Will as well. This is because even if the 2013 had been set aside, the 2012 Will would have stood, with the result to Mrs Young being largely the same.

The outcome

Mrs Young lost her claim, and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. When the case went against her in July 2019, the Court ordered her to repay £214,000 to the RNLI as she had been looking after the money. Unfortunately, Mrs Young had ‘dissipated’ the remaining sum of £54,000. The dictionary.com definition of dissipated is:

‘to scatter in various directions; disperse; dispel. to spend or use wastefully or extravagantly; squander; deplete: to dissipate one’s talents; to dissipate a fortune on high living.”

The most recent Court hearing this month saw the RNLI successfully applying for a charge to be put on Mrs Young’s home for payment of the outstanding sum and legal costs. This could lead to her losing her home.

What can we learn from this?

There are many lessons here, but perhaps the most important is that by using a professional to write his Will, Mr Cole made sure that high quality evidence was brought before the Court. The letters he wrote were also very good evidence.

The lesson for the rest of us is to think very carefully before challenging a Will where a charity is the main beneficiary. They have the means to fight these cases, and they often do.