The client was the only son of the deceased. The deceased made a Will in 2002 leaving her entire residuary estate (there were a number of modest pecuniary legacies) to the client. The client’s cousin and her mother started to involve themselves in the deceased’s affairs in 2014. The deceased was aged 91 years at the date of death and suffered from a number of medical conditions. The medical evidence, however, suggested that she retained testamentary capacity up until the date of her death. With the close involvement of the cousin, the deceased met with a firm of Will writers and a financial adviser. She executed a new Will in 2016 leaving substantial pecuniary bequests totalling approximately £950,000 to the cousin, her mother and siblings of the deceased. By the time the client instructed us, the cousin had already extracted a Grant of Probate and had engaged a firm of solicitors to deal with the administration of the estate.
We obtained the deceased’s medical records and a detailed Larke v Nugus statement from the Will writers. Solicitors instructed by the cousin also provided us with a Witness Statement prepared by the financial adviser. The client also provided us with detailed statement from himself and his two children. Close examination of the evidence / documentation suggested that a case might be made that the deceased did not fully understand and appreciate the effect of the Will that she had made. There were numerous references in the documentation concerning the preparation of the 2016 Will to the deceased wanting her son (the client) to receive the bulk of the estate. The effect of the 2016 Will, however, was to leave him as residuary beneficiary a net sum of approximately £230,000.
The evidence suggested that the deceased had been improperly advised by the financial adviser as to the true value of the estate and furthermore that no proper explanation / advice had been given to her as to where the burden of Inheritance Tax would fall. Pecuniary bequests were expressed to be free of tax so that the entire burden of Inheritance Tax fell on the residuary estate, in consequence of which the client’s share was much diminished. We prepared a comprehensive pre action protocol letter of claim in conjunction with Counsel, and disclosed a considerable quantity of supporting documentation to solicitors instructed by the cousin. The solicitors of the cousin were subsequently also instructed by the other pecuniary legatees. After exchange of further detailed correspondence we managed to persuade the cousin and other family members to attend a mediation. Counsel had advised that the case was 50 / 50 and thus it was very important to achieve settlement at mediation rather than risk costs of a full trial. We hosted an 11 hour mediation when settlement terms were reached whereby the client’s share of the estate was increased by approximately £350,000.