A nephew whose ‘curmudgeonly’ aunt left her entire £300,000 fortune to her window cleaner has been handed back his inheritance after convincing the High Court that she lacked the necessary legal capacity to execute a valid will.
Cecil Bray was at Julie Spalding’s ‘beck and call’ after he gave up work to look after her in 1996, running errands and organising her affairs as the pensioner ‘called the shots’ around her home. Mr Bray, 82, resigned from his retirement job to ‘dedicate more time to looking after her’ which became ‘almost a full-time job’.
In 2003, Mrs Spalding, who died in 2008 aged 98, drew up a will leaving the bulk of her money and her home to Mr Bray. However, in 2005, she underwent a major personality change following a series of falls and Mr Bray was ‘excommunicated from her life’. She instead formed a close bond with her window cleaner, Albert Pearce, 80, and signed a series of three wills, the last of which was executed in the year before she died and named Mr Pearce as her sole beneficiary.
Mr Pearce insisted that he had never been interested in Mrs Spalding’s money and that he had always done his best to care for her. In dismissing claims that had had brought undue influence to bear upon her, the Court found that there had been no coercion on his part and rejected claims that he had been ‘cavalier’ in his care of Mrs Spalding in the last months of her life.
However, the Court found that Mrs Spalding had ‘expressly agreed’ that she would leave her home to Mr Bray in her will and that it was right to hold her to her promise, given all that her nephew had done for her in reliance upon it. Stripping Mr Pearce of his inheritance, the Court also found that Mrs Spalding lacked testamentary capacity to make any of her final three wills and found in favour of the 2003 document, which left Mr Bray all but £14,000 of her estate. The decision meant that Mr Pearce would have to repay all that he had received from the estate.