Disinheriting mother “took advantage” of husband’s Alzheimer’s
In order to disinherit their son of the £10 million inheritance he had been promised, the wife of an Alzheimer’s sufferer “took advantage” of her husband’s condition, a judge has ruled.
In a bid to stop him taking over their family firm from his father, Pamela Moore had also accused her son, Stephen, of violent harassment.
Instead, Judge Simon Monty QC stated that since childhood, Stephen had worked on the Stapleford farm, which had been in the family for multiple generations.
It was heard by the High Court that his father, Roger, had lived sparingly on less than £300 a week in a bungalow on the estate with his family.
It was also recognised by the court that prior to Roger’s mental decline, he had promised Stephen repeatedly that the farm would “all be yours one day”.
The judge stated that 48-year-old Stephen was entitled to rely on his father’s assurances and that the farm, which included the farm house of substantial size, could be passed to him.
Judge Monty continued: “It was always Roger’s intention that Stephen would inherit the farm and the business, and that intention was shared by Pamela.
“These intentions were expressed as promises to Stephen. Particularly after 2009, Pamela took advantage of Roger’s mental decline, which in my view does her no credit.”
Mrs Moore had expressed that should Stephen inherit the entirety of the farm, described as being “by far the family’s biggest asset”, it would be unfair on their daughter, Julie.
Her intention to rectify this was expressed by Judge Monty: “She was and remains determined to redress what she regarded as a stark inequality of likely inheritance between Stephen and Julie.”
He added that Mrs Moore had “unfairly portrayed Stephen as a violent and difficult son who made her and Roger’s life a misery”.
In regards to Roger wanting their son to take over the business, Mrs Moore further expressed disagreement. She stated that during the time when Roger’s mental capacity was intact, she “refused to accept” that her husband possessed an “unchanging intention” to “see Stephen at the helm”. After Alzheimer’s took hold in 2008, Mr Moore had struggled in dealing with what he viewed was “demotion as head of the family farming business”. The court heard that the serious level of memory loss and growing sense of uselessness reached by Roger in 2009, led him to state “I might as well shoot myself”.
Seeing Stephen grow up, Mr Moore had handed down his “passion for farming” to his son and urged him to work on the farm. Stephen had subsequently “thrown himself wholeheartedly into working on the farm” having spent three years at agricultural college.
The judge described Stephen’s position in regards to his expectation of taking over the farm: “Since he was a teenager it was not only clear to him that he would one day take over the running of the farm, but also that Roger…encouraged him in that belief.
“Roger would say to him that all of this, referring to the farm, would be his one day. It seems to me that everything points to an over-arching plan under which Stephen would inherit the whole farm and business in due course and that Stephen was told this was the case.”
Changing his will in 2012, Mr Moore disinherited his son of the farm. However, the judge stated that by this point he was “playing very little part in events”.
Describing her son’s behaviour as “intolerable”, Mrs Moore had accused him of “molesting” her husband, “by way of violence, threats, pestering and other forms of harassment”. It was also said that at one stage, a non-molestation order had been sought by Mr Moore against his son. However, the accusations put forward by Mrs Moore had been described by the judge as “so trivial as to be of no effect”.
He stated: “Roger, in his right mind, would never have contemplated litigating against his own son. Matters between father and son were nowhere near the kind of total collapse described by Pamela and other members of the family.
“Roger would have been appalled at the family’s private affairs being exposed to public scrutiny and at the prospect of the farm being split up.”
Speaking about Stephen, the judge also stated: “He clearly loves his father and has always looked up to him.
“By contrast, his relationship with Pamela has always been a difficult one… sad to say, relations between them had been difficult since Stephen’s childhood.”
Judge Monty also added that Stephen now “in effect runs the farm, as Roger is too ill to participate”.
For a week which may reach up to 50 working hours, Stephen begun on just £200 a week and was still earning below £300 a week after becoming a partner in the business.
The judge stated Stephen only did this because “he truly believed, as he had been encouraged to believe, that in the fullness of time he would inherit the farm and the business.” In addition, due to his “whole-hearted commitment to the farm” he was unable to pursue an alternative career.
Stephen told the court: “If I were to cash in I would be a very wealthy man, but I have no intention of cashing in. If we have a good year, we might be able to afford a holiday or a new car, if not then so be it.”
Due to “Roger’s ill-health” Judge Monty ordered that the father and son partnership can be dissolved.
Stephen will be transferred Mr Moore’s portion of the farm, although the farm can still provide his parents with an income as well as a home for as long as they may require.
“This is a just and equitable outcome” concluded the judge, stating that it honours what Roger always intended.
“It means that the farm can continue to be farmed by the next generation of the Moore family as Roger always intended”.