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Burgess & Anor Vs Hawes & ORS: Validity Of Will

The case of Burgess -v- Hawes was recently heard by the Court of Appeal where a daughter appealed an earlier decision of a County Court to overturn her late mother’s Will in favour of her disinherited brother.

In 1996 Mrs Burgess executed a Will dividing her estate equally in favour of her three children, Julia, Libby and Peter. However in December 2006 Julia Hawes took her mother to a firm of solicitors where instructions were given for a new Will to be drafted, which left everything to her two daughters and excluded Peter as a beneficiary. The new Will was executed in January 2007 by Mrs Burgess. Two years later Mrs Burgess died and Peter and Libby contested her latest Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and of want of knowledge and approval. Despite the fact that the Will was drafted by an experienced solicitor who described Mrs Burgess as being ‘compos mentis’ Her Honour Judge Karen Walden-Smith, sitting in Central London County Court ruled the Will to be invalid. She also ordered Mrs Hawes to pay back £18,000 plus interest back into Mrs Burgess’ estate.

Mrs Hawes appealed against the ruling and the case was heard by Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Mummery in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has reserved judgement on the appeal but took the opportunity to highlight the importance of respecting the rights and wishes of older people. Lord Justice Patten commented on the fact that the three siblings risk spending the whole of their late mother’s £120,000 estate on the legal costs and may therefore end up with nothing.

This note does not constitute legal advice but is intended as general guidance only. It is based on the law in force in November 2012. If you would like further information, please contact Richard Monkcom, Head of Druces’ Private Client team.

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