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Probate Litigation

31st July, 2014

Property gifted out of a person’s estate before a person’s death can be ordered to be put back into their estate, after death, to the benefit of the beneficiaries of a will.

In the recent case of Hart v Burbidge [2014] EWCA Civ 992 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Sir William Blackburne that property which was gifted to a husband and wife by the Deceased during her lifetime should be put back into her estate after her death by the couple on the grounds that the gifts in the first place were procured by undue influence.

Undue influence in this context (as opposed to undue influence in regard to preparation of wills) is centred around the idea that certain relationships are based on the principals of trust and confidence, reliance and dependence; most usually in the family environment e.g. between mother and son or father and daughter.

Such “special relationships” require special treatment in the eyes of the law, which is usually concerned with transactions at “arms length” between two opposed persons who are not “their brother’s keeper.”

Such relationships are most usually discussed, in the legal context, in relation to mortgages or charges over a persons property e.g. where a son procures that his father grant a charge over his property as security for the son’s loan from the bank or other such person or entity.

However, in this case, the situation is that the Defendant had been placed by the Deceased into a position of trust and that the relationship between Defendant and Deceased was one of trust and confidence, reliance and dependence.

It was found that the Deceased had transferred a house and a large sum of cash out of her estate to the Defendant, but that such a transfer had been done as a result of undue influence having been put onto the Deceased to do so. Despite the fact that the Deceased was very well disposed to the Defendant and was very grateful to her and her husband (in contrast to her feelings towards the Claimants) the Court held that the Defendants had unduly influenced the Deceased and had acted, at least in part, dishonestly.

The decision is noteworthy to any person who would have expected to benefit under a will and has not done so.

For more information on this or any other probate litigation matter please contact David Mann on 01244 405592 or email [email protected].

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