When the late Anna Rea died aged 86 in July 2016, her estate passed in accordance with the will prepared the year before, which left her property to only her daughter. The property, as is often the case, was the largest asset in the estate, valued at around £750,000 at the date of death and estimated at £1m by the time of the court hearing. As the property was left solely to her daughter, whilst Mrs Rea’s 3 sons were named in the will, in reality under this will they would receive very little.
The 3 sons therefore brought a claim to challenge the will by alleging that their sister had exerted undue influence over their mother and “poisoned” her against them. Had they been successful in their claim, the estate would have passed in line with the earlier will from 1986, which left everything equally to the four children.
At the time of preparing the will, Mrs Rea confirmed that the reason she wished to give her property solely to her daughter was that her daughter had been the one who had provided care in her final years. It was her daughter who had moved into the property in 2009 in order to become her mother’s carer after she had a heart attack, whereas Mrs Rea had stated that her sons had not engaged with her requests to help. The judge noted that 2 of the 3 sons spent a significant amount of time living or working out of the country, though it was the evidence of their sister that they could have visited their mother at any time. It was also confirmed that Mrs Rea felt so strongly about their lack of care that she changed the locks to the property so that her sons no longer had keys.
When providing the judgment, the judge was clear that his role was not to consider what was “fair” and he had to only consider whether the will was valid. Undue influence is an extremely difficult argument to succeed in and in order to succeed it is necessary to show that the pressure placed on the testator was so strong that it overpowered their ability to decide for themselves. In the judgment, the judge confirmed that he understood the sons’ disappointment but that did not change the fact their mother was strong minded and had reached her own decision in order to reflect the years of care their sister had provided. Accordingly, the estate passed in line with the 2015 will which meant the daughter received the vast majority of the estate and the sons were left with only the small legacies, which their representatives said would have been swallowed up by the funeral costs.
This case shows the all or nothing nature of challenging the validity of a will: either a will is valid or it is not and the courts will not set a will aside simply because it does not seem fair, they will need some clear evidence before being persuaded.
Brothers Remo, Nino and David Rea took their own sister, Rita, to court, claiming she had tricked their mother, Anna, into making her the sole inheritor of her £1million home in Tooting, south London.