The Problems When Families Fall Out Over Inheritances

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Blood is thicker than water, so they say. However, when family members fall out over an inheritance, these can often be the most acrimonious of disputes. This was the situation between brothers Philip and Geoffrey Randall. In all the brothers entered into three different sets of legal proceedings and more were threatened.

The last of the three claims concerned their late aunt, Madeleine Taylor. Geoffrey alleged that his older brother Philip had exerted undue influence over Madeleine with regards to the Will she had made. Madeleine and her late husband, John, farmed near Whitstable in Kent. They had a simple life running a chicken farm but things went downhill with the advent of battery farms. In later years after the death of Uncle John, Madeleine just “hobby” farmed. She was particularly attached to her three 3 donkeys. But of that more later.

The couple’s financial affairs were far from organised, and by the time Uncle John passed away no Tax Returns had been submitted for a few years. Philip took the opportunity to assist Madeleine in getting things straight. When Madeleine made a Will in 1992 she appointed her solicitor and Philip to be her Executors and Trustees. Philip and brother Geoffrey were due to inherit one of the two properties on Madeleine’s land, and the rest was to be shared out between other family members.

In subsequent years Madeleine made a series of gifts. These were all to Philip. Also later on, Madeleine made a new Will and then she executed an Enduring Power of Attorney in favour of Philip. By the time of the fourth gift, Madeleine had to all intents and purposes been cleaned out of any assets save for her home.

Over time, the land values in the area increased substantially and a developer offered to buy the farm as a whole for over £5 million. The fly in the ointment was the matrimonial home as this needed to be sold as part of the purchase scheme. But before anything was able to be done about the house, Madeleine passed away at the ripe old age of 87.

The claim brought by Geoffrey alleged all manner of things including that Madeleine’s Will was invalid and, of course, that the various gifts had not been made by Madeleine of her own free will, but under the unduly influence of nephew Philip.

The matter ended up going to trial in 2004. The Judge found that the way Philip had conducted himself after Madeleine’s death was “deeply unattractive”. He went on to ask himself three questions: did Madeleine put trust and confidence in Philip as to the management of her financial affairs at the time that she made the gifts? Could one reasonably account for the gifts on the grounds of friendship, relationship, charity, or ordinary motives? And, thirdly, having raised the issue of undue influence, had Philip properly answered that?

In looking at these questions, the Judge considered the personality of Madeleine. She was described as a highly intelligent, motivated person who could be quite difficult. She could even be said to be eccentric. She was known to “play” the system and had received benefits when she shouldn’t have.

The Judge concluded, taking into account the evidence he had heard as to Madeleine’s personality that the gifts were made by her only as a result of Philip relying upon the relationship of trust and confidence Madeleine had in him to make these gifts. This was especially so bearing in mind the size of them, and as the Judge put it, Madeleine’s attitude to things was “what she had, she held”. Taking all of this into account, the gifts simply did not stack up.

It is one of those odd twists that the situation regarding the three donkeys was pivotal. In later years they were the mainstays of Madeleine’s life. By virtue of the gifts that she made, she had got rid of the land on which they grazed, their stables, and the field for making their hay. The consequence was that the Judge decided to set all four gifts aside.

The case of Randall -v- Randall was, as the Judge put it, a sad and unfortunate dispute between 2 brothers. From a legal point of view, it is a prime example of how evidence as to the family life before someone passes away can be crucial in determining disputes over inheritances, and is an example of the analysis of undue influence.

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