Unlikely Event Leads To Win In £2m Inheritance Fight

A will thought to be lost for over a decade, that was central to a £2m inheritance dispute was discovered after a cat knocked over a pile of papers due to be shredded.

Dean and Dale Brunt, along with their sister Venetia had owned between them Ettridge Farm in Hertfordshire, worth £6m after inheriting the estate from their grandfather. However, in 2007, Dean died in a railway accident, leaving his £2m share of the farm to his 82 year old mother as it was thought he had not left a will.

Dean’s mother, Marlene Brunt, following the death obtained letters of admission over his estate, believing he had died an “intestate bachelor”. Following the rules of intestacy, she inherited his share in the farm which she then handed to her eldest child Dale, meaning he owned two thirds of the land and business.

However, a family feud began when Venetia accused her brother Dale of “bullying her” out of the running of the business and attempting to force their 80 year old uncle Winston ‘Bob’ Wrangle from his home on the farm.

Following Dean’s death Venetia had assumed the farm and business had been passed equally to herself and Dale, and was “shocked” when nearly a decade later it was revealed that in fact it had been Marlene.

In 2018 Dean’s former legal advisor Howard Day discovered amongst his files what he said was Dean’s final will, which had been signed by Day on behalf of Dean, which backed Venetia’s claim to half of the estate.

Following the discovery of the will, Mr Wrangle brought the case to court, where Dale and Marlene both claimed the document was a forgery made after Dean’s death. Unfortunately Mr Day passed away before the issue could be settled.

In a dramatic turn though, in February this year a second will with the same terms was discovered amongst a pile of Mr Day’s documents that were due to be shredded, after they were knocked over by a cat. The court was told how papers from family disputes had been sent from Mr Day’s office to the office of Mr Wrangle’s solicitor Katy Sillett, who had then piled up ‘un-needed duplicate copies’ ready to be destroyed. When the papers were knocked over, Mrs Sillett “realised that what she believed was a duplicate will was in fact an original”.

The second will, described as ‘crucial’ by barrister Duncan Macpherson acting from Mr Wrangle, was found only weeks before the case was due in court.   The newly found will had a signature that was more “steady-handed” than the other document, which weakened the theory that they were forgeries.

The two wills, which were identical in terms, saw Dean’s £2m share of the farm go to both Venetia and Dale. Marlene Brunt however claimed that the documents were not valid and had not been made in 1999, as they had been dated, but in fact years later after Dean’s death.

Mr Day had signed both documents on behalf of Dean, however it was suggested the later unsteady version was written by Mr Day years later when Mr Day was less firm. Experts however found that the more steady-handed signature was more similar to examples of Mr Day’s signature of the late 1990s.

Judge Teverson ruled in favour of the wills and stated that there was a “substantial amount of evidence” that Dean had spoken in the late 1990s about having made a will as he had told friends he had done what his grandfather would have wanted, meaning his mother got nothing. The judge also rejected the suggestion that notes made by Mr Day at the time of creation of the wills were part of an “elaborate fraud”.

Speaking further the judge said that Venetia had been an “impressive witness” who had been “genuinely shocked” to learn she had not inherited Dean’s share of the farm. Dale on the other hand appeared to be “intent principally on arguing his and Marlene’s case” and that Marlene was “a most unimpressive witness”. Marlene and Dale had deliberately kept Venetia and Mr Wrangle in the dark about the distribution of the will.

Giving judgement, Teverson stated:

“I heard and saw Marlene give evidence. She denied ever having seen the will when a copy of it was shown to her. Her evidence then shifted to saying that the document was Howard’s will and not Dean’s will.

‘The court must have sympathy for and respect her grief at the loss of her son. That cannot however justify concealing from her family apart from Dale that Dean’s estate was being administered under intestacy, which I find that she did.’

‘I heard and saw Marlene give evidence. She denied ever having seen the will when a copy of it was shown to her. Her evidence then shifted to saying that the document was Howard’s will and not Dean’s will.

‘The court must have sympathy for and respect her grief at the loss of her son. That cannot however justify concealing from her family apart from Dale that Dean’s estate was being administered under intestacy, which I find that she did. ‘I heard and saw Marlene give evidence. She denied ever having seen the will when a copy of it was shown to her. Her evidence then shifted to saying that the document was Howard’s will and not Dean’s will.

“The court must have sympathy for and respect her grief at the loss of her son. That cannot however justify concealing from her family apart from Dale that Dean’s estate was being administered under intestacy, which I find that she did.”

“I am satisfied on the evidence before me that the will was signed in Dean’s presence and at his direction and that the witnesses understood that Dean was wanting Howard Day to sign on his behalf,’ he added.

“Looking at the totality of the evidence before the court, I am satisfied Dean had understood what was in the will and did approve its contents.”

Following judgment Dean’s estate will be divided under the terms of the 1999 wills, splitting the farm equally between Venetia and Dean. One third of the house Mr Wrangle currently lives in on the farm land will be left to him after he said he and his late wife had been promised to him.   Marlene was removed as executor and an independent solicitor was appointed.

 

 

  • Silverstone Auctions
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
X