Animal Charities Lose Out in Bitter Will Dispute

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A retired policewoman and animal lover may have been a bit confused in her final years, but she knew what she was doing when she gave her £350,000 home to the nephew who cared for her, the High Court has ruled.

HorsesThe nephew insisted that he had looked after his aunt devotedly as her health failed and that it was her gratitude which prompted her to hand him the deeds to her home and to utter the words, “This will be yours when I go.”

Seven animal charities were set to inherit all but £19,000 of the aunt’s estate under a will she had signed in 1998 – but the nephew successfully argued that the house was his because his aunt had gifted it to him when she knew she was dying.

The nephew had ‘a somewhat chequered history’. He had twice been made bankrupt in the past and had served a 12-month prison sentence for acting as a company director while disqualified from doing so. The Court noted that it was ‘not surprising’ that the charities’ lawyers had mounted a full-scale attack on his credibility.

His account of the gift was said to be ‘too convenient by half’. No one else had witnessed the deeds being handed over and he had over-egged his caring role, the charities argued. The aunt had devoted her retirement to helping animals and it was ‘common knowledge’ that she intended to leave her home – by far her biggest asset – to animal charities on her death.

The Court approached the nephew’s evidence ‘with a very considerable degree of circumspection’. However, there was evidence that the aunt had several times tried to change her will in his favour before she died. The nephew’s account was ‘entirely unshaken’ under cross-examination and was accepted as accurate.

The charities also argued that, if the aunt had made the gift, she was not of sound mind when she did so. She was said to have suffered from a delusion that one of her cats had gone missing, when it had died years earlier. There was also evidence that she had, on one occasion, been seen outdoors half-naked at night.

However, the Court was not persuaded that the aunt lacked the necessary mental capacity to benefit her nephew. She was ‘contemplating her impending death’ when she put the deeds into his hands and the gift of her home was valid.