Daughters lose in £4m will dispute

by Daniel Jones

Three daughters who contested the terms of their father's last will and testament have lost their High Court battle. Victoria Wharton, 55, Gina Fagan, 51, and Amanda Wharton, 42, took legal action against Maureen Wharton, 63, their late father's partner of 32 years after they were cut out of the £4 million will.

The daughters claimed their stepmother, who married George Wharton three days before his death, exerted undue pressure on her husband. He had written the will in 2008 on the day he was discharged from hospital suffering terminal cancer. It was not longer after that the 78-year-old married his long-term partner.

However, Mr Justice Norris ruled in favour of the widow, saying he does not regard that fact that a husband should leave his wife everything as suspicious.

He added: "A deathbed marriage, a deathbed will, a large estate and the absence of any provision for issue may be expected to heighten family tension, to provoke indignation at a sense of unfairness, to encourage a trawl through family history – either to justify the provision made or to demonstrate that the will cannot really embody the testator’s genuine wishes.

"The imminence of death undoubtedly caused Mr Wharton to reassess matters. That is why he intended to get married. It was in the light of that intention that he made the 2008 will."

Despite the decision of the High Court to uphold Mr Wharton's will, recent cases suggest courts are increasingly ignoring the wishes of the deceased, according to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. Its director of philanthropy Keith Johnston said: "On the one hand the law has always said that you can leave your money to whoever you want, but you need to be aware that the courts are increasingly taking the view that relatives can be entitled to funds even where the will rules this out."

Whatever the court rules, making a will and ensuring it well drafted is essential in ensuring a person's wishes are carried out after the death, particularly when it comes to the dispersal of assets.

Published on: December 19, 2011

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