The problems when families fight over inheritances

Blood is thicker than water, they say. However, when family members fight over an inheritance, these can often be the most acrimonious disputes. This was the situation between the brothers Philip and Geoffrey Randall. In total, the brothers started three different legal proceedings and more were threatened.

The last of the three statements concerned his late aunt, Madeleine Taylor. Geoffrey alleged that his older brother, Philip, had exercised undue influence over Madeleine with respect to the will he 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 Uncle John’s death, Madeleine was simply farming. She was particularly attached to her three donkeys. But about that later.

The couple’s financial affairs were far from organized, and when Uncle John passed away, no tax returns had been filed for some years. Philip took the opportunity to help Madeleine clear things up. When Madeleine made a will in 1992, she appointed her attorney and Philip to be her executors and trustees. Philip and his brother Geoffrey would inherit one of the two estates on Madeleine’s land, and the rest would be divided among other members of the family.

In the following years Madeleine made a series of gifts. All of these were for Philip. Also later, Madeleine made a new will and then executed a durable power of attorney in favor of Philip. At the time of the fourth gift, Madeleine had to dispose of all assets, except those of her home, for all intents and purposes.

Over time, the value of land in the area increased substantially and a developer offered to buy the estate as a whole for more than £ 5 million. The fly in the ointment was the marital home, as it was to be sold as part of the purchase plan. But before anything could be done with the house, Madeleine passed away at the age of 87.

Geoffrey’s claim alleged all sorts 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 undue influence of her nephew Philip.

The matter ended up on trial in 2004. The judge found the way Philip had behaved after Madeleine’s death was “deeply unappealing.” She continued to ask herself three questions: Did Madeleine trust and trust Philip in managing her financial affairs at the time she made the donations? Could one reasonably explain gifts for friendship, relationship, charity, or ordinary reasons? And thirdly, having raised the question of undue influence, had Philip answered that correctly?

In examining these questions, the judge considered Madeleine’s personality. She was described as a highly intelligent and motivated person who could be quite difficult. You could even say that she is eccentric. She was known for “playing” the system and had received benefits when she shouldn’t have.

The judge concluded, taking into account the evidence he had heard about Madeleine’s personality, that the gifts were made by her only as a result of Philip trusting the trusting relationship that Madeleine had in him to make these gifts. This was especially so considering their size, and as the judge said, Madeleine’s attitude towards things was “what he had, he held it.” With all of this in mind, the gifts just don’t add up.

One of those strange twists is that the situation regarding the three donkeys was pivotal. In later years they were the pillars of Madeleine’s life. By virtue of the gifts he gave, he had disposed of the land on which they grazed, their stables, and the field to make his hay. The consequence was that the judge decided to put aside the four gifts.

Randall’s case -v- Randall was, as the judge said, a sad and unfortunate dispute between 2 brothers. From a legal point of view, it is an excellent example of how evidence about family life before someone dies can be crucial in determining inheritance disputes, and it is an example of undue influence analysis.

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