14th February, 2022
Court dispute over £100m fortune highlights need for quality legal advice
On 31st January, the England and Wales high court handed down its judgment in Reeves v Drew and Others, a probate dispute over the £100m estate of Southampton based property developer Kevin Frain.
The judge described Mr Frain as an extraordinary man who had built up his fortune from nothing. That fortune unleashed a bitter feud between his children and grandchildren after he died. The dispute centred around a will made by Mr Frain in 2014 which made considerably greater provision for this youngest daughter Louise at the expense of other family members who benefitted under an earlier will, primarily his son Bill and two grandchildren Ryan and Ria.
The main issues in the case were:-
- Whether Mr Frain had known and approved of the content of his 2014 will; and
- Whether Louise had unduly influenced him in respect of the 2014 will
One of the key factors was the apparent illiteracy of Mr Frain who had left school at an early age and who apparently struggled to read long or complicated documents. In those circumstances, it was critical that extra care was taken to read the will over to him and make sure that he understood the changes he was making.
The will making process was overseen by an experienced solicitor, Daniel Curnock. The judge found both Mr Curnock’s evidence and the manner in which he had gone about preparing the 2014 will to be most unsatisfactory. Having agreed with Mr Frain a £140 fixed price for the will, he compared the quality of the service he provided to the quality of clothes at Primark. Mr Curnock had allowed Louise to become heavily involved in the will making process and he denied them having known each other previously despite evidence to the contrary. Phone records showed a large number of text messages passing between the pair during the will making process, but both claimed to be unable to recall what they had been texting about.
The judge found that Mr Frain had not been aware of the substantial changes that were made in the 2014 will. He described Mr Curnock’s involvement as being reckless and quite possibly dishonest. The judgment serves as an important reminder for all solicitors to take the necessary steps to ensure that they take instructions directly from their clients and make sure that those clients truly understand the content of the wills being prepared on their behalf.
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