• Whether you are dealing with a private wealth dispute, are challenging probate or contesting a Will, the process can be stressful – especially when dealing with difficult circumstances with family members. The process is also often complex, adding to the worry. The recent probate dispute case of Blythe v Blythe [2023] demonstrates how important it is to have the evidence needed to support your claim in court.

    Summary of Blythe v Blythe: a recent probate dispute case

    The case concerns the estate of Roland Blythe who died a widower in 2017. He left a Will dividing his estate equally between his children Corrine (the claimant), Stephanie (the defendant) and Courtney. Stephanie was appointed executor and a grant of probate was issued to her in January 2020 which made her responsible for dealing with the estate. The value of the net estate was approximately £230,000.

    Stephanie made interim distributions of £50,000 to herself and £50,000 to Courtney, but nothing to Corinne. Stephanie was suspicious of a transaction a couple of years before Roland’s death when he transferred £200,000 to Corrine. It is easy to see why she was concerned. Roland had had dementia and one might regard £200,000 as a very large sum of money to a man whose estate was of such modest value by the time he died. Stephanie thought Corinne should pay the money back to the estate. Corinne however said the money was a gift to help her buy her house, and she should not therefore have to pay it back.

    Eventually, in April 2022, Corinne issued court proceedings requiring Stephanie to complete the estate administration and pay Corrine her equal share of the inheritance. She also sought a declaration that the £200,000 was indeed a gift. Stephanie counterclaimed seeking a declaration instead that Roland had lacked capacity to make the transfer, or that he had been unduly influenced by Corrine.

    Stephanie was unsuccessful. She had not presented any medical or expert evidence to support the incapacity claim and other aspects of her evidence was found wanting (e.g she failed to evidence a complaint she claimed to have made to Roland’s bank). The result was that the court was not satisfied Stephanie had discharged the burden of proving Roland lacked capacity, and the totality of her evidence was insufficient to shift the evidential burden on to Corrine.

    As to the undue influence allegation, it would have been necessary for Stephanie to show that Roland had trust and confidence in Corrine with regard to financial matters at the time of the transfer, or that Corinne had acquired dominance over him. However, Stephanie’s own evidence was inconsistent with that because she said that (a) it was Roland’s partner, Vanita, and Stephanie herself who were assisting Roland with his finances at the time, not Corinne, and (b) Roland did not trust Corrine. Therefore, the court could not make a finding that Roland trusted Corrine with his finances so Stephanie’s undue influence allegation failed.

    Summary of the court decision and reasoning

    A gift of £200,000 would be seen as out of the ordinary and call for an explanation if it was a substantial chunk of the donor’s overall wealth. Stephanie did not however provide sufficient evidence about the extent of Roland’s wealth (and needs) at the time of the transfer. Consequently, the court had to work with the evidence it did have, which was that the money was not the majority of Roland’s assets at the time, nor a a sum he needed for his day-to-day expenses. Therefore, the court concluded, Roland’s decision to assist one child with the purchase of a property, even though it impacted the inheritance prospects of his other children, was not so unusual or suspicious that it could only have been explained if Corinne had unduly influenced him. The court rejected Stephanie’s counterclaims and ordered that the balance of Roland’s estate be shared equally between Corinne, Stephanie and Courtney.

    No two cases are ever the same, but the collation and presentation of evidence to the court is crucial to the outcome. The case of Blythe v Blythe is a perfect example of this and shows how it can directly impact the result of a case. More often than not it makes the difference between winning or losing – despite how the facts might appear superficially on the surface.

    Further guidance and support

    Our team of specialist lawyers can offer expert advice and representation for individuals when disputes arise in relation to disputed/challenged Wills, probate, trusts, estates and inheritance. Our supportive team understands that starting legal action is often a last resort and can be stressful. We have many years’ experience advising and representing individuals in all manner of issues arising from Will, probate, trusts, estates and inheritance disputes, and we always seek to resolve any dispute using the most practical and cost-effective methods.

    Head of the Contested Trusts & Probate team, Deborah Cain, specialises in disputes and litigation about challenging Wills, estates, Probate and Trust issues. To get in touch please fill out our contact form or alternatively you can call us on 01622 690691

    This content is correct at time of publication

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