Posted by Mike Muston, Senior Associate
How difficult is it to prove undue influence in relation to a Will?
A recent High Court decision has highlighted the difficulty of proving undue influence in relation to a Will. So just how difficult is it to prove undue influence?
Undue influence and Wills
In the recent High Court case, the late Mr Boyes removed his two sons, Hugh and Alastair, from his Will. Hugh and Alastair claimed that the reason their father had cut them out of his Will was due to the influence of their sister, who had allegedly been making false allegations to their father, to ‘poison’ his mind against them.
While a similar argument has been successful in the past, it was not sufficient on its own this time. The Court has stated that in order to establish undue influence in relation to a Will, a party must prove that there was no other possible explanation for the change to the Will, other than undue influence. Hugh and Alastair failed to do so, so the contested Will was upheld.
Undue influence and lifetime gifts
Interestingly, the Court treats ‘gifts’ made by a person during their lifetime in a very different way. Our Inheritance & Trust Disputes team were recently successful in a case where the facts were very similar to the High Court case above: it involved a sister who received a substantial lifetime gift from her mother which vastly reduced her brothers’ inheritance. The two brothers contested the validity of that gift.
Our team were able to show a relationship of “trust and confidence” between the late mother and the daughter. As a result, this time, the onus was reversed: it was the daughter who needed to prove that undue influence should not be presumed by the Court. She failed to do this.
However, in contested Will cases the Courts have never presumed undue influence, leaving it to those cut out of Wills to prove that it had taken place.
Is this distinction fair?
The distinction has developed through differing approaches that the Court has taken in the past when considering the position of Wills and lifetime gifts. However, given the similarity between the two cases above, the distinction drawn by the Court is hard to understand.
Unless the Court decides to change its longstanding approach, proving undue influence in relation to Wills will remain difficult. That said, cases in recent years have suggested that the Court may be beginning to soften its approach when considering such claims.
What is clear is that a person seeking to establish undue influence will need strong evidence to do so.
If you feel you have been unfairly cut out of a Will, it’s best to seek expert advice. Our Inheritance & Trust Disputes team has dealt with many contested Will cases, so do not hesitate to contact us today on 0800 923 2070 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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