Battle Of The Siblings Over The Validity Of Their Late Mother’s Will

Like with many inheritance disputes, the case of Rea v Rea concerned a dispute between siblings over the validity of their late mother’s last Will.

Rea v Rea

Factual background

This was a claim brought by Rita Rea (“Rita”), the daughter of the deceased, Mrs Anna Rea (“Mrs Rea”), in relation to Mrs Rea’s last Will dated 7 December 2015 (“the 2015 Will”). Rita sought that the 2015 Will be entered into probate in solemn form (the pronouncement by the Court that the Will is formally approved and not subject to later contest).

Rita had three siblings, who were also the biological children of the deceased, Remo, Nino and David. All parties were in their 50s at the time of the dispute.

The main asset within the estate was Mrs Rea’s house, which at the time the 2015 Will was made was worth approximately £750,000.

Mrs Rea had made an earlier Will dated 29 May 1986 (“the 1986 Will”) in which all four of her children were to inherit an equal share of her estate and Remo was appointed as executor of the 1986 Will.

The 2015 Will removed Remo as executor and deleted the clause in which all siblings were to inherit an equal share of the estate. Instead, Mrs Rea left her home to Rita only, because Rita had taken care of her for several years prior to her death.

A further clause was added to the 2015 Will in which Mrs Rea explained the reason for not providing for her sons in her Will.  The clause read:

“I DECLARE that my sons do not help with my care and there has been numerous calls from me but they are not engaging with any help or assistance. My sons have not taken care of me and my daughter Rita Rea has been my sole carer for many years. Hence should any of my sons challenge my estate I wish my executors to defend any such claim as they are not dependent on me and I do not wish for them to share in my estate save what I have stated in this Will.”

The parties had all moved out of the family home. Remo had moved back for a short period until 2009 following a divorce. Rita moved back in 2009 after Mrs Rea suffered a heart attack and required support and care. Rita’s evidence included an account of the care that she provided to Mrs Rea on a daily basis, which was not disputed by her brothers.

The brothers’ contact with their mother was limited. In 2015, Mrs Rea’s care needs increased. Nino and David agreed to help more and they drew up a rota to take it in turns to care for Mrs Rea at the weekends, so that Rita was able to have a break. The arrangements fell apart after only a few weeks as David said that he had work commitments and Nino seemed unwilling or unable to carry out any of the tasks required to help his mother. Remo had lived in the United States for a few years until 2015 and even when he returned he did not visit Mrs Rea for some time.

This caused a major fallout between the parties, which Mrs Rea must have known about. It was not long after the fallout that Mrs Rea made the 2015 Will.

Counterclaim by the brothers

The three brothers counterclaimed for probate of the 1986 Will and denied the validity of the 2015 Will being entered into probate on the following grounds:

  1. That Mrs Rea lacked testamentary capacity (although this was dropped by the brother’s at trial so the Judge did not have to determine the point. The brother’s did not want to question their mother’s mental competence);
  2. That Mrs Rea did not know and approve of the contents of the 2015 Will;
  3. That the 2015 Will was made as a result of undue influence exerted by Rita over Mrs Rea; and
  4. That the Will was procured by a fraudulent calumny by Rita on Mrs Rea.

Knowledge and approval

When determining if Mrs Rea had knowledge and approval of the 2015 Will, Deputy Master Arkush considered the legal principles established in Gill v Woodall [2011] Ch. 380 and concluded that Mrs Rea did have knowledge and approve of the content of the 2015 Will.

The brothers’ evidence in support of their argument for lack of knowledge and approval was that their mother was a simple person and that she almost had no ability to use the English language and her own mind.

The Court heard from the solicitor, Mrs Sukul, who advised on and drafted the 2015 Will and also Mrs Rea’s GP, Dr Qaiyum, who both gave evidence in support of Mrs Rea knowing and approving the content of the Will and that she was able to understand the English language as long they did not use complicated long words and spoke slowly to her.

Undue influence

The brothers’ also claimed that the 2015 Will was made as a result of the undue influence that Rita had over their mother. It was for the brothers to prove that Rita had undue influence over her mother rather than having to disprove the claim. The brothers would need to prove that influence by Rita resulted in coercing Mrs Rea to make the Will she did.

The brothers’ evidence in support of this was that Rita was an angry, violent and vindictive person. The Judge accepted that the relationship between the parties were fraught.

He could not however accept the brothers’ evidence to support that there was undue influence over Mrs Rea. Deputy Master Arkush stated that:

“the defendants either set out to blacken Rita’s character to the court as a deliberate and dishonest aim or they have persuaded themselves that she is as bad a person as they described her”.

The Judge had also heard from Mrs Sukul and Dr Qaiyum who had assisted in establishing that Mrs Rea had made the 2015 Will of her own volition and that she made her own decision on the matter.

Fraudulent calumny

The finding of fraudulent calumny followed which the brothers also failed to prove. For this claim to succeed they would have needed to show that Rita had poisoned their mother’s mind by casting a dishonest aspersion on their characters.

The Judge found that there was no evidence to support that Rita had done so.

Conclusion

All of the counterclaims made by the brothers failed and the 2015 Will was admitted to probate.

This case demonstrates some of the various arguments that can be used to argue against the validity of a deceased’s Will, but it also demonstrates that they are not easy arguments to run and that the evidence in support of the claims is crucial.

If you are considering a claim for or against the validity of a Will, it is important that you obtain independent legal advice in order to ascertain the merits of your claim at the earliest possible stage.

Rea v Rea

How Nelsons can help

Emma Winfield is a Solicitor in our expert Inheritance Disputes team.

For advice on any queries relating to inheritance disputes, please call Emma or another member of the team in DerbyLeicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or contact us via our online form.