Brothers miss out on £1m home in ruling over mother’s will

30th September 2019

The High Court has ruled against three brothers who were written out of their mother’s will, finding that her most recent will was valid and that it was not a task for the court to decide whether her wishes were justified or fair.

Anna Rea passed away in 2016 aged 85, leaving a property worth almost £1m to her daughter Rita, to the exclusion of her three sons in Rea v Rea and others [2019] EWHC 2434 (Ch)

Mrs Rea’s daughter applied to the court to seek a grant of probate, whilst her three brothers defended her claim and submitted a counter-claim alleging that:

  • Their mother did not know of and approve the contents of her last will
  • Their sister had exerted undue influence over their mother to make her last will
  • Their sister had induced her mother to make the will by fraudulent calumny
    (i.e. made false statements about her brothers to persuade her mother to disinherit them)
  • Their mother lacked testamentary capacity to make her will – (although the brothers dropped this argument at court, because they could not support this claim).

Mrs Rea was very fond of her daughter, who had cared for her almost daily since she had fallen ill following a heart attack and continued to do so for over six years until she died. However, Mrs Rea’s three sons did not help out and this led to Mrs Rea writing a new will in 2015, which included the following clause:

“I DECLARE that my sons do not help with my care and there has been numerous calls from me but they are not engaging with any help or assistance. My sons have not taken care of me and my daughter Rita Rea has been my sole carer for many years. Hence should any of my sons challenge my estate, I wish my executors to defend any such claim as they are not dependent on me and I do not wish for them to share in my estate save what I have stated in this will.”

Mrs Rea did not completely disinherit her sons, gifting them £1,000 each.

Although the brothers were understandingly upset not to have benefited from their mother’s will (other than £1,000 each), the judge dismissed their four challenges to the validity of Mrs Rea’s will. The last will she made in 2015 was held to be valid and her daughter is set to inherit the house and most of her mother’s assets.

The judge made reference to Master Clark in Nutt v Nutt [2018] EWHC 851 (Ch) to say that it is not for the court to decide whether the contents of a will are justified or fair. The court’s role is to consider whether or not the will has been validly made.

This case has grabbed the attention of the media and serves to show that courts are unwilling to overturn the deceased’s wishes, where a will has been validly made by solicitors and was done without cause for concern.

For advice and help in relation to dealing with a challenge to a will, please contact Beth King-Smith at [email protected] or on 01905 744 842.