A will signed by a 96-year-old woman two years before her death has been declared invalid by a judge on grounds that its execution was procured by the undue influence of her eldest son. The High Court ruled that the son had ‘taken advantage’ of his aged mother’s vulnerability.
By the 2006 will, the son was left the farmhouse where his mother had lived, her only major asset which was valued at about £350,000, whilst his younger brother received a legacy which was described as of ‘negligible value’. The younger son ran a business on land surrounding the farmhouse and the will had left the siblings co-existing in close proximity although there was no love lost between them.
The court rejected the younger brother’s plea that his mother had lacked the mental capacity to make a valid will or alternatively had not had the required knowledge and approval of its contents. However, emphasising the ‘powerful personality’ of the older son, the court ruled that undue influence had been brought to bear.
Stressing that the son had not physically or emotionally abused his mother, the court noted that he would have experienced frustration in caring for an elderly relative. His lawyers had insisted that his mother had full mental capacity at the time she made the will, pointing to her ability to complete a newspaper crossword despite her advanced age.
However, describing the son as a ‘forceful man with a forceful physical presence’, Mr Justice Mann concluded: ‘I think that the circumstances require the inference that he was instrumental in sowing in his mother’s mind the desirability of his having the house and, in doing so, he took advantage of her vulnerability’.
Although it was not possible on the evidence to determine the precise mechanism by which undue influence had been exerted, the judge concluded: ‘I am satisfied that this will results from some form of undue influence’. The court overturned the 2006 will and declared in favour of a 1990 will by which the mother had split her estate equally between her sons.