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Judge Rules that Widow ‘Pressured’ into Changing Will

Two brothers were denied their rightful inheritance after their frail step-mother was pressured into changing her will by a relative, the High Court has ruled.   The 75-year-old widow’s free will had been ‘worn down’ by her brother-in-law, who had exerted undue influence upon her.

The brother-in-law’s attempts at coercion began after the death of the widow’s husband and took the form of persistent telephone calls which left her increasingly distraught.  The result was that the woman, who was by then very fragile, signed a fresh will in December 2008 which left the bulk of her £594,000 estate to her brother-in-law’s children.

Her step-sons, who had viewed her as a ‘second mother’, were left just £10,000 each. Under their step-mother’s previous will, executed in 2005, she had left her entire estate to ‘her boys’ to whom she had been very close since marrying their father in 1966.

The brothers challenged the 2008 will, the terms of which had left them ‘shell-shocked’ after they were disclosed at their step-mother’s funeral.  Their case was unopposed by the beneficiaries of the 2008 will and the brother-in-law also played no active part in the proceedings.

Overturning the disputed will and declaring in favour of the 2005 will, the court noted that the the woman had been in a ‘very fragile physical and mental state’ in the months after her husband’s death and there was evidence that she had complained of ‘not feeling right’ on the day she signed the 2008 will.

Much of the brother-in-law’s coercion had taken the form of repeated cajoling by telephone, which had driven the woman to ask a friend to answer the telephone on her behalf.  By the time she executed the will, the previously ‘feisty’ elderly lady had a chronic liver ailment and poor mobility due to hip fractures.

There was cogent evidence that the woman’s free will had been overborne and the court’s conclusions were reinforced by the collective ‘shock and surprise’ among her friends and loved ones on learning that she had all but disinherited her step-sons.

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Alison Armstrong TEP, Principal Solicitor

Alison is a qualified Solicitor and specialises in Wills, Probate, Mental Capacity and Charity Law.

After gaining a first in English and Philosophy, Alison studied Law at the College of Law in London and qualified in 2003.  She has worked at a number of well-known law firms in the City and the West End, and now runs her own law firm, Armstrong Private Client, in North London.

Alison is also a full member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), having qualified via the thesis route in 2007.   STEP is the leading worldwide professional body for practitioners in the fields of trusts, estates and related issues and full members of STEP are the most experienced and senior practitioners in this field.

Always keen to extend her knowledge, Alison is currently studying to become a qualified tax technician with the Association of Tax Technicians (the ATT).  The ATT is the leading professional body for technicians specialising in UK tax obligations, compliance services and related activities.  So far, Alison has earned ATT certificates in personal, and trust and estate taxation and will shortly be taking the business tax exam.

In her spare time, Alison enjoys improving her French language skills, cooking and drawing.

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Sally Holyland, Consultant Solicitor

Sally is a solicitor with more than 15 years’ litigation experience, and is an associate member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) (http://www NULL.actaps NULL.com/).

Sally advises on all aspects of contentious trust and probate claims, including:
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  • the validity of wills,
  • claims brought under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975,
  • claims against executors and trustees, and
  • professional negligence actions in relation to wills, trusts and estate planning matters.

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Sally also advises in Court of Protection proceedings, including statutory will applications and making deputyship applications, disputes between executors and attorneys, and financial abuse claims.

Sally looks for the most cost effective solution and, as an accredited mediator, she understands the best way to utilise mediation.

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Jan Neate, Consultant Chartered Legal Executive

Jan is a Chartered Legal Executive with over 20 years’ experience gained from working at a number of well-known law firms in the City and West End. She offers advice in relation to:

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  • wills,
  • tax planning,
  • lasting powers of attorney,
  • estate administration,
  • mental capacity,
  • elderly client issues.

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In her spare time Jan enjoys walking her dog, watching live music and cooking for family and friends.

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Beneficiary Fails in 12-Year Inheritance Tax Fight

A dozen years after a businessman’s death, his principal beneficiary is facing a stinging inheritance tax bill after losing a marathon dispute with HMRC.  The first-tier tribunal accepted that HMRC’s calculations were correct in law and that the deductions sought by the taxpayer were rightly disallowed.

The Deceased, Martin Lerner, died aged 72 in 1999 leaving assets valued at almost £800,000.  The tribunal’s ruling means that his personal representative and main target of his generosity, Ginette Silber, is liable to pay more than £88,000 in inheritance tax and interest from the estate.  That sum is on top of over £140,000 in tax liabilities that have already been paid.

By his final will, executed in 1997, Mr Lerner left small legacies to his sister, Sula Kestenbaum, and her children and one-tenth of the remainder to the Chay Charitable Trust.  The other nine-tenths were bequeathed to Mrs Silber.  Mr Lerner had also executed a Jewish will in Israel, in Hebrew, but all parties had accepted that that will had no effect under English law.

There followed a dispute over the validity of the will during which Mrs Kestenbaum claimed that her brother had lacked capacity to make a valid will. That disagreement was settled in 2001 with the validity of the 1997 will being recognised by all parties and Mrs Kestenbaum accepting a £400,000 lump sum from her brother’s estate.

Mrs Silber argued that inheritance tax liabilities should be reduced on the basis that the £400,000 ought to be viewed as a debt on Mr Lerner’s estate.  It was also submitted that credit should be given for gifts Mr Lerner had made to charity before his death and that £107,000 that he had paid to a company he owned should be treated as a gift, rather than a loan, for tax purposes.

However, the tribunal ruled that the arguments put forward by HMRC were ‘founded on a correct view of the law’ and dismissed Mrs Silber’s appeal.

This case highlights how important it is to take proper legal and tax advice when making a Will, particularly if you think that your Will may be disputed after your death.  We would be pleased to advise you if you would like to make a new Will.