Rea v Rea – The Difficulty In Establishing Undue Influence

Establishing Undue Influence

Undue influence

One method of challenging the validity of a Will is on the ground that the deceased was unduly influenced. Undue influence means that they did not make the Will of their own free will.

To establish the ground of undue influence, it must be established on the balance of probabilities that the deceased was forced or coerced by another person into making and executing the Will in question.

Please see our blog on undue influence for a more detailed explanation of the ground and how it may apply to your circumstances.

Rea v Rea [2024] EWCA Civ 169

Background

In 1986, Anna Read (the Deceased) made a Will. This will simply stated that her estate was to be divided equally between her four children, Rita, Remo, Nino and David, with Rita being named the sole executor.

In 2015, the Deceased made a new Will, drafted by an experienced legal professional. The 2015 Will was far more detailed than that of the 1986 Will. The 2015 Will made a specific gift of the Deceased’s home, which was the largest part of her estate, solely to her daughter Rita because she had been caring for her at the time. The residue was to be split equally between the Deceased’s four children. Similar to the 1986 Will, Rita was named sole executor.

The 2015 Will also included a declaration that any challenge to its validity by the Deceased’s three sons be challenged by the executor, Rita.

In 2017, Rita sought to prove the 2015 Will. The Deceased’s three sons issued a counterclaim, challenging the Will’s validity on the following grounds:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Want of knowledge and approval
  • Undue influence
  • Fraudulent calumny

The Court in the first instance pronounced in favour of the 2015 Will. However, the Deceased’s three sons were able to successfully appeal this decision as the evidence was not considered in sufficient detail. Here it was held that the 2015 Will was invalid on the grounds of undue influence, despite the opinions of an experienced legal professional and medical expert suggesting there was no undue influence. Rita appealed.

2024 Appeal

The focus of this appeal considered what was to be deemed undue influence.

Lord Justice Nealey stated that undue influence needs to be ‘more probable than any other hypothesis’.  It was held that when considering the evidence undue influence could therefore not be established. The appeal held that there were alternative and equally probable hypotheses.

For example, previously the High Court considered that Rita acting as a carer for the Deceased in the years prior to her passing was persuasive evidence in favour of the existence of undue influence. However, the appeal, considering the same circumstances considered that it would be reasonable and, on the facts, more probable to presume that the Deceased would like to leave a gift in her Will to account for Rita taking on the role of carer and this did not imply the existence of undue influence.

Circumstances such as these with the addition of evidence from an experienced legal professional and medical expert attesting to the validity of the Will and absence of undue influence meant it was held in the appeal that the 2015 Will was valid.

Comment

Undue influence remains a hard ground in establishing when challenging the validity of a Will. To be successfully established, it must be the more probable explanation giving consideration to the evidence and all other potential hypotheses that the testator was in fact unduly influenced.

The appeal judgement also suggests that the Court will consider the opinion of an experienced legal professional with as much weight as that of a medical expert.

How can Nelsons help?Fraud And Forgery Will

Amrik Basra is a Trainee Solicitor in our Private Litigation team.

At Nelsons, our team specialises in these types of disputes and includes members of The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS). The team is also recommended by the independently researched publication, The Legal 500, as one of the top teams of specialists in the country.

If you have concerns about the validity of a Will, please contact Amrik or a member of our expert Dispute Resolution team in DerbyLeicester, or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online enquiry form.

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