The High Court has today given its judgment in a case where a wealthy former pilot was in dispute with his two sisters over their late mother’s £1.5m estate, ordering that the estate would be split equally between the three siblings.

Chris Burgess was originally left just £300,000 in his parents wills, which were executed in 2012. After his father died later that year, his mother Freda Burgess, made a new will in 2013, splitting her estate between the three children equally, each therefore getting around £500,000. His sisters, Jennifer and Catherine challenged the validity of the 2013 will, arguing that their mother would have been too ‘frail and vulnerable' to change it, and that they had more financial need for the money than their brother did.  They therefore wanted the 2012 will to stand.

The judge determined that Mrs Burgess had expressed her free wish to leave her estate equally to her children, and that she was capable of doing so. 

It had been argued by Jennifer and Catherine that the 2013 will had not been validly witnessed, as one of the witnesses said that they did not see Mrs Burgess sign it. The judge accepted that the 2013 will had not been validly witnessed as a result of this, and was therefore invalid. However, the judge also found that Mrs Burgess had genuinely revoked her earlier 2012 will. The Judge commented that “although physically frail at this time and temporarily less robust psychologically than before her fall, she was well able to make up her own mind about what she wanted". With both wills therefore being declared invalid, the result was that Mrs Burgess died intestate. The estate is therefore to be divided equally between the children in any event, reflecting the terms of the 2013 will.

This is an interesting decision which shows the court’s willingness to uphold the wishes of the deceased. An improperly executed, and therefore invalid will, normally results in the previous will standing as valid. However here, the court was satisfied that the evidence showed that the deceased no longer wanted the 2012 will to be valid, and it had been revoked. The intestacy rules gave the same equal balance of the estate as the 2013 will did, and therefore all children will now inherit an equal sum.