Ruling on online Will that left children with nothing
The High Court in Bristol has found in favour of a brother and sister who disputed their late mother’s DIY Will which left them with nothing.
Clarke Willmott successfully represented the siblings – Henrietta Ingram and Tom Whitfield – in Ingram and Whitfield v Abraham 2023 in contesting a purported last will of their mother Joanna Abraham executed in 2019.
In 2019, Joanna’s brother, Simon Abraham, drafted a new will for her using an online template, claiming that he acted on her instructions. Joanna died in 2021 aged 58, after a long battle with cancer. The Will left the entire estate to him and a valuable book collection to his wife Hilary, and nothing to Henrietta and Tom.
His Honour Judge Berkley, sitting as a judge of the High Court, ruled the 2019 Will did not achieve what Joanna Abraham wanted, which was ‘to secure the benefit of her estate for her children, apportioned to reflect their lifetime gifts’.
The Judge said a lawyer would have recognised Joanna’s intentions “as for the creation of a discretionary trust in favour of Tom and Henrietta, with Simon as trustee to act in accordance with her stated intentions.”
Senior Associate, Emma Ironside, and Trainee Solicitor Ellie Bond, both members of Clarke Willmott’s Commercial and Private Client Litigation team, acted for the claimants who were represented by John Dickinson of St. John’s Chambers at trial.
“Joanna executed a Will splitting her estate between her two children in 2008,” said Emma, who specialises in contentious wills.
The siblings had always thought they would inherit her entire estate based on what she had told them throughout her life. However, in 2019, Joanna’s brother, Simon, drafted a new Will for her in which her estate was left entirely to Simon and her book collection was left to his wife. Joanna executed the 2019 Will in her home and this was witnessed.
Henrietta and Tom challenged the new Will on the grounds of lack of knowledge and approval. They produced significant evidence to show that the circumstances surrounding the execution of the new Will were suspicious, including voice recordings and social media messages.
The children accepted the signature on the 2019 will was Joanna’s, but challenged the initials at the foot of each page which they argued was in stark contrast to her usual way of initialling things. They argued that their mother did not understand or approve the new Will and its contents.”
The High Court judgment included a finding that Joanna had not understood the effect of the 2019 Will and that Simon Abraham had contributed to that misunderstanding.
In his defence, Simon said Joanna had given clear instructions to leave her estate to him and her books to Hilary. He said the reason she changed her Will so dramatically was because she fell out with her children.
He said he read the Will to her over the phone and sent her copies of the document by both email and post and delivered a bound version of the will for her to sign and that the Will was witnessed by her lodger and a neighbour. He asserted that Joanna had retained the signed Will. Simon’s credibility was damaged by inconsistencies in his evidence and his continued failure to disclose texts, call records, and other social media messages stored on her mobile phone. Emma Ironside added:
We’re pleased to have been successful in this case. If you want to challenge a Will or think the circumstances surrounding the execution of a Will are suspicious, it is important to seek specialist legal advice.
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