Trust Deed Key In Contentious Case

A Cardiff court has ruled against claimants who stated their mother had signed a homemade will under undue influence by their brother.

Margaret Wilcox died in 2016 leaving her home to her son Edward McCarthy, under the terms of a will written by Edward and witnessed by his best friend and friend’s wife, in 2014.

Edward’s sister, Lesley, and brother Dennis, argues that the will was signed by their mother under the undue influence of their brother and an accompanying deed, written in 1998, was not valid as their mother did not understand the document or signed it under duress.

Following the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in her late husband in 1996, and that would lead to permanent care for, the judge recognised that there would have been concerned that the property, which had been let from the local council, would be repossessed. Along with a substantial discount offered by the council to purchase the property as well as the excitement “at owning her own home”, the property was purchased using money provided by Edward.

At the time of the purchase a deed of trust was also creating confirming that the purchase money of £16,875 was provided by Edward and that the property was conveyed to Mrs Wilcox “merely as a trustee for him”. The deed was signed by Mrs Wilcox and her solicitor Mr Baldwin, and had been stored with the title deeds, but no restrictor was entered to Land Registry as Edward had not replied to Mr Baldwin when it had been suggested to do so at a cost of £100.

Mrs Wilcox continued to live at the property until a short stay in care before her death in 2016. During 1998 and 2016 however Mrs Wilcox did write different wills, firstly leaving the property to Edward in 1999, then during 2004 the property had 70% left to Edward and 30% to Lesley and Dennis. However, it is the 2014 will that was contested by Lesley and Dennis, which had been written by Edward and signed by his friend and friend’s wife. It was also two years after Mrs Wilcox had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The judge found that the trust deed was valid, in that there was “no direct evidence that Mrs Wilcox did not understand the deed or was coerced into signing it”. Mr Baldwin also stated that he “would have made sure…she knew what she was doing, and would not have allowed any pressure.”.

The judge stated:

“Nor is it surprising in my judgment that Mrs Wilcox should want her son who had provided her with the purchases monies to be entitled beneficially to the property. Indeed, at one point in her evidence Lesley McCarthy said that her mother believed she had a moral obligation to leave the property to her son Edward as he had paid the money.”

The judge did show some concern that the last will had been created whilst Mrs Wilcox was in her late 80s and had been diagnosed possible Alzheimer’s, however found that “given the background of dealings with the property as set out and found above, the provision is not surprising, and I am not persuaded that her signature was the result of undue influence.”.

This case has highlighted the importance of clients creating not only a valid will but also that any beneficial interest in a property should be well documented and formalised. When it comes down to money following a death families that had previously been close can be torn apart.

More information can be found about the case McCarthy v McCarthy [2020] EW Misc 10 (CC) here.

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