Christmas comes early to Armstrong’s as Alison is named as Rising Star

We are pleased to announce that our principal, Alison Armstrong, has been included as one of six "Rising Stars" in her field in the 2014 Super Lawyer's list.

Super Lawyers, which is part of Thomson Reuters, is a solicitor-rating service with a mission of bringing visibility to solicitors who exhibit excellence in the practice of law.  The selection process is designed to find indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement and solicitor's cannot nominate themselves or pay to be rated.

Double ISA Allowance for Surviving Spouses

From 3 December 2014, a surviving spouse or legal partner will 'inherit' the ISA allowance of their deceased spouse or partner.

The move, announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Pre-Budget statement, means that the survivor will effectively have a double ISA allowance after the death of their spouse or partner.

The transfer will not be automatic, however. The deceased person's ISA will have to be dealt with in the same way as any other assets of their estate and the survivor will then have a one-off allowance.

However, the allowance is not available until 6 April 2015.  The ISA limit also increases to £15,240 from 6 April 2015.

Ex-Husband Denied Share of Former Mother-in-Law’s Estate

In a case in which the bitter fall-out from divorce affected not only the ex-couple but their entire family, a disgruntled ex-husband has suffered defeat in a High Court bid for a share of his deceased former mother-in-law's £250,000 estate.

The man had argued that, under the terms of his divorce, he was entitled to about £75,000 of his ex-mother-in-law’s money.  That was on the basis that, when he divorced her daughter, the latter had agreed that he should have an equal share of any inheritance which she received from her mother which exceeded £100,000.

When the woman died, she left £100,000 to her daughter and most of the rest of her wealth to her grandchildren. On the face of it, the terms of the will had the effect of defeating any claim against the estate by the ex-husband. However, he pointed to anomalies in the document and argued that it had not been properly executed.

Following a preliminary hearing, a judge nevertheless ruled that the man, who was not a beneficiary under the will, had no ‘legal standing’ to mount an attack on its validity.  On the available evidence he, in any event, had ‘little chance’ of proving that it had not been executed in accordance with the law.

Scientist’s Orphanage Wish Leads to Will Dispute

An eminent scientist and inventor’s wish to endow a foundation to benefit orphans may be frustrated after his widow signed potentially conflicting wills, giving rise to venomous family wrangling and costly litigation on either side of the channel.

The widow, who had substantial assets in a number of countries, had made one will in England, benefiting her niece, and another in the Netherlands which named an orphans’ foundation as her sole heir. The foundation was named after her deceased husband and the Dutch will, which narrowly post-dated the English document, strictly stipulated that her relatives should derive no benefit from her estate.

The two wills had given rise to a wide-ranging dispute between the widow’s two brothers, her niece, various other members of the family and the foundation. Issues had arisen as to whether either will had been properly executed and as to whether the widow was of sound mind when she signed them. There was also a debate as to whether the Dutch will had revoked the English document.

The brothers had launched proceedings in England and asked the High Court to block parallel proceedings brought by the niece and the foundation in the Netherlands. It was submitted that the Dutch proceedings were vexatious and oppressive and that England was the natural forum in which all the issues should be resolved.

The Court observed that it was ‘most unfortunate’ that there should be concurrent proceedings in two different jurisdictions, giving rise to a risk of conflicting judicial decisions. However, in refusing to grant an anti-suit injunction to stop the Dutch proceedings, the Court found that they could not be viewed as unconscionable, unjust or abusive.

Animal Charities Lose Out in Bitter Will Dispute

A retired policewoman and animal lover may have been a bit confused in her final years, but she knew what she was doing when she gave her £350,000 home to the nephew who cared for her, the High Court has ruled.

The nephew insisted that he had looked after his aunt devotedly as her health failed and that it was her gratitude which prompted her to hand him the deeds to her home and to utter the words, "This will be yours when I go."

Seven animal charities were set to inherit all but £19,000 of the aunt’s estate under a will she had signed in 1998 – but the nephew successfully argued that the house was his because his aunt had gifted it to him when she knew she was dying.

The nephew had 'a somewhat chequered history'. He had twice been made bankrupt in the past and had served a 12-month prison sentence for acting as a company director while disqualified from doing so. The Court noted that it was ‘not surprising’ that the charities’ lawyers had mounted a full-scale attack on his credibility.

The charities argued that nephew's account of the gift was 'too convenient by half'. No one else had witnessed the deeds being handed over and he had overemphasised his caring role. The aunt had devoted her retirement to helping animals and it was 'common knowledge' that she intended to leave her home – by far her biggest asset – to animal charities on her death.

The Court approached the nephew’s evidence ‘with a very considerable degree of circumspection'. However, there was evidence that the aunt had several times tried to change her will in his favour before she died. The nephew’s account was 'entirely unshaken' under cross-examination and was accepted as accurate.

The charities also argued that, if the aunt had made the gift, she was not of sound mind when she did so. She was said to have suffered from a delusion that one of her cats had gone missing, when it had died years earlier. However, the Court was not persuaded that the aunt lacked the necessary mental capacity to benefit her nephew. She was 'contemplating her impending death' when she put the deeds into his hands and the gift of her home was valid.

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‘Feckless’ Son Stripped of Power of Attorney

A ‘feckless’ son who irresponsibly accepted a £72,000 gift from his mother and spent the cash on a house renovation has been stripped of his lasting power of attorney over her property and financial affairs.

The mother, aged in her 80s, suffered from moderately severe Alzheimer's disease and the Court of Protection found that she had lacked the mental capacity to make the gift. The money had been raised by way of mortgage over the widow’s home and she had been left in a precarious financial position.

The son had given conflicting accounts of what happened – describing the money as both a loan and an outright gift – and the Court found that he was not a credible witness. He had prioritised his own interests over those of his vulnerable mother and, through the utter fecklessness of his actions, had shown himself to be unsuitable to hold any power over her affairs.

Holocaust Survivor’s Carer Wins Just Reward

A woman who devoted herself to the care of a widow and Holocaust survivor as her health declined has convinced the High Court that the deceased promised to reward her for her kindness with the gift of her £160,000 flat.

Since the deceased’s illness the woman had assisted her in a variety of ways; helping her to keep her flat clean and tidy and looking after her following time in hospital, receiving no remuneration. The deceased, who had escaped the Nazis, believed that she had no surviving relatives, her sister having died in a concentration camp.

The widow’s total estate was worth around £1.3 million. She had made no will and, following her death aged 89, the woman had moved into her flat. However, an ‘heir hunter’ subsequently tracked down two of the pensioner’s cousins and launched proceedings against the woman on behalf the estate.

Accusing the woman of being a trespasser, he sought her removal from the property and also claimed £50,000 from her in respect of almost five years in which she had lived in the flat rent free. In dismissing the heir hunter’s financial claim, however, the Court found that the widow had indeed promised to give her flat to her friend.

The value of the care that the woman had given to the widow was assessed at £70,000 and she was thus awarded £20,000 from the estate after taking into account the value of her rent-free occupation. On that basis, the woman was given six months to move out of the flat so that it could be returned to the estate.

Should Tax Defaulters be Named and Shamed?

In a unique decision which balances the public interest in naming and shaming tax defaulters against the privacy and reputational rights of the individual, a solicitor accused of under-declaring his liability to pay Stamp Duty on a property purchase has been granted at least temporary anonymity by a tax tribunal.

The solicitor and his wife had jointly bought a property for more than £760,000 but had declared the purchase price to HMRC as £100,000. Although more than £30,000 in Stamp Duty was due on the transaction, none was paid until HMRC launched an inquiry.

Upon discovery of the default, the couple signed a settlement agreement with HMRC by which they paid the sum due, plus a penalty of more than £16,000. However, when the couple learnt that their names would appear on a list of deliberate defaulters, they appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) against the penalty.

The couple insisted that their under-declaration was inadvertent. They argued that the publication of their names on the list would be ‘akin to libel’ and was likely to have serious professional consequences for the solicitor. However, HMRC argued that the couple had been ‘prepared to admit to tax evasion as long as no one found out about it’ and that the public interest demanded full public disclosure.

In refusing permission to appeal, the FTT found that the settlement had not been conditional on the couple’s names being kept out of the public domain. The full and final agreement reached had the force of contract and the FTT therefore had no jurisdiction to consider the matter.

Turning to the privacy issues raised, the FTT found that it would be ‘inimical to justice’ to assist the solicitor in hiding his alleged misdemeanours from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), his clients and potential clients. His professional status, far from justifying anonymity, positively favoured full publication.

However, in granting the couple anonymity until the end of the appellate process, the FTT noted that HMRC’s accusation of dishonesty had yet to be subjected to proof and that the couple had an arguable case that they had made an honest mistake. The decision meant that the couple would not be publicly named until all possible avenues of appeal against the penalty had been exhausted.

Dementia Sufferer Capable of Executing £2 Million Will

A businessman engaged in a marathon dispute with his siblings over their £2 million inheritance has failed to convince the Court of Appeal that his mother was so badly affected by dementia that she lacked the mental capacity to execute a valid will.

Under an earlier will, the businessman had been left a residential property and 16 crucial shares in a family company, which would have given him a controlling interest in the business. But his mother, who died aged 91, made a new will on her 88th birthday, leaving all but £20,000 of her estate equally between her three surviving children and the family of a fourth child who pre-deceased her.

'If there is one apple, it ought to be divided into four', was one of the mother’s favourite sayings; however, the businessman nevertheless argued that she lacked testamentary capacity when she signed the will and did not have the required knowledge and approval of its contents.

His legal team pointed out that his mother had written about the great help he had given the rest of the family since the death of his father and that it had been he who had taken over and grown the family company. The equal division of the 16 shares would also leave the business in deadlock.

His arguments failed before the High Court and, in dismissing his appeal, the Court of Appeal found that, although she had suffered from dementia for several years and was not as mentally sharp as she once had been, the mother knew what she was doing when she appended her signature to the will.

The businessman’s lawyers argued that, by the time the will was executed, his mother could not remember exactly what assets she owned or why she had favoured him in her previous will. She was also said to have sometimes forgotten that her oldest son had died the year before.

However, the Court noted evidence that she had not wanted to benefit any one of her children more than the others and that she was well aware that her departure from her previous will would be to the businessman’s detriment. The conclusion that she had made a conscious decision was fully supported by the evidence.

The draft will, which was in relatively simple terms, had been read twice to her before she signed it and she had appeared to understand it after reading it again to herself. The conclusion that she had full knowledge of its contents, and approved them, was in the circumstances 'unassailable'.
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