Widow maintains latest will reflects the testator’s wishes
A recent story about a will challenge before Central London County Court illustrates some of the dangers of late life will changes. The testator’s widow, Ailsa Williamson Powell, was feuding with her stepsons, Richard Powell and Jonathan Powell.
Richard and Jonathan challenged a will their father, David Powell, made shortly before his death. David battled Parkinson’s Disease before succumbing at age 84 in 2012. At issue were what Richard and Jonathan described as “odd” updates to the will shortly before David’s death. The impugned will left half of David’s estate to his widow, Ailsa. The other half was split equally between Richard and Jonathan. The estate is believed to be worth £250,000.
Several other wills existed
David married Ailsa in 2003. At the time he made a will leaving the bulk of his estate to his sons. Ailsa was to receive only £2,000. Another will was made in 2008 splitting the estate in three equal shares for Ailsa, Richard, and Jonathan. Yet another will was made in 2009 leaving Ailsa half of the residue after some small gifts, and Richard and Jonathan the other half. The brothers argued that the last valid will was the 2008 will where Ailsa, Richard, and Jonathan each received a third of the Estate.
Richard and Jonathan took the position that their father did not have testamentary capacity at the time he executed the most recent will. He had battled Parkinson’s Disease for over 20 years and was pressured by their stepmother to make the changes.
It is interesting to note that under the 2008 will Ailsa and the brothers would have received a third of £250,000 or approximately £83,333 each. Under the 2009 will, Ailsa stood to receive approximately £125,000 while the brothers would receive £62,500 each.
Notwithstanding, the matter progressed to a hearing.
Judge rules in favor of widow
Justice Marc Dight dismissed the brothers’ claim that the 2009 will was invalid. He found that the brothers had been unreasonable throughout the litigation. The legal bills associated with the dispute were approximately £200,000.
Richard and Jonathan argued that the estate should pay the costs of the will challenge. Justice Dight found that awarding the costs out of the estate would wipe out everyone’s inheritance. He also found that their stance was “driven by personal issues and not by a reasonable inquiry into their father’s state of mind.”
As a result, the entire £200,000 in costs was awarded against the brothers.
The above scenario illustrates what may happen if the parties to an estate dispute are not reasonable. Rather than settling the matter out of Court, the brothers seem to have wanted to wear down their stepmother financially. Unfortunately for them, Judge Dight ruled against them and against using estate funds to pay for their actions.
It will be interesting to see if this matter will be appealed.
More on this story here.