In a victory for testamentary freedom, the High Court in England & Wales has just upheld a mother’s decision to disinherit her daughters. Maudlin Bascoe left a token legacy of £100 to her daughter, Patricia Johnson, and £500 to her other daughter. Mrs Bascoe died in 2015 at the age of 96 leaving a 2005 Will, and Patricia Johnson claimed undue influence and forgery, also alleging that Mrs Bascoe lacked testamentary capacity and approval of the Will’s terms.
Mrs Bascoe had included an explanatory note in her Will stating that ‘both my daughters have shown very little care and concern for me in my later years and in particular they have both been rude, unpleasant and in some instances physically violent and abusive towards me and have verbally expressed their lack of care and concern…I therefore have no desire that they should benefit from my estate over and beyond the legacies I have made in this Will.’ If true, you can rather see her point. That said, including a statement like this in the Will itself, which is a public document, does tends to be a red rag to a bull when it comes to claims from disappointed beneficiaries. A discreet letter of wishes is usually preferable, as many practitioners feel that this may be less likely to provoke a claim.
Mrs Bascoe’s medical records did not show any support for Patricia Johnson’s assertion that her mother had suffered from dementia since ‘about 2001’. In addition, her solicitor was able to give some convincing evidence about her testamentary capacity at the time when she made the Will, although it was clear that she had indeed lost capacity later on, and he also said that there was no question in his mind that she had been unduly influenced by her son (who inherited the bulk of her estate) or by anyone else.
The court dismissed Patricia Johnson’s claims entirely and found in favour of the executors, granting probate to Mrs Bascoe’s 2005 Will.
In conclusion, it would appear that the court was supportive of the testator’s clearly expressed wish to disinherit her adult child, in the absence of any evidence suggesting a lack of testamentary capacity or foul play. This case is encouraging for clients considering disinheriting a close family member in their Will for any reason. If accompanied by a clear explanation of the reasons for their decision, their wishes may well be upheld.