When a grieving widower reunited with a childhood friend and left her everything in his will – cutting out his three adult children from his £675,000 estate – the result was a bitter feud which tore apart a farming community and led to the High Court.
The widower was stricken by grief and loneliness in the years after his wife’s death and took comfort from the kindness and support of his old friend. He ultimately took his own life after signing his will, leaving her his half-share of the family farm, nine acres of grassland which had development potential and other assets.
His children, who all still lived in the neighbourhood and had been brought up on the farm, challenged the will on the basis that their father lacked the mental capacity to validly execute the document and that his friend had exerted ‘undue influence’ over him. Prior to launching proceedings, they had registered a caution against the farm, preventing the friend from selling it.
Following a preliminary skirmish in the case, the Court lifted the caution and opened the way for the property to be sold at auction. Although there was evidence that the widower had a degree of emotional dependence on his friend, there was little to suggest that he did not know his own mind when he signed his will.
It was the children’s intention to develop the land, rather than to farm it, and, in the circumstances, the proper course was to permit the sale to proceed. The Court concluded by urging the parties to pursue mediation, rather than litigation, as a means of resolving their dispute.