Our contentious private client team successfully defended a highly unusual case where the claimant alleged that our clients had deliberately suppressed a will made by their father in favour of the claimant.
The claimant was the deceased's mistress. She alleged that when the defendants visited the deceased's property in the Isle of Wight after his death in order to locate a will and other paperwork, they did in fact locate a will made by the deceased in 2007 under which the claimant was the main beneficiary. The main witness in support of her case was an electrician who was working at the property and who claimed to have overheard a conversation between the defendants about the contents of the deceased's will.
No valid will was found and the only testamentary document located by the defendants was a draft unsigned 2002 will in similar terms to that propounded by the claimant except that the main beneficiary under that will was the deceased's previous partner.
After an eight day High Court hearing which attracted a large amount of media attention, the judge dismissed the claim and ordered the claimant to pay the defendants' costs. He later ordered that the estate be administered on the basis of an intestacy on the grounds that no valid will had been found.
The case clarified the standard of proof required when trying to propound a will based on oral evidence only, namely that the claim must be proved on the balance of probabilities rather than on the higher criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt, although the judge commented that he would need very clear proof that a will in such circumstances had been validly executed. The case has since been widely reported in the legal press.
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