Former banker, Harold Tickner, needed a helping-hand in 2010 when his wife, Ursula, began showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. Leonora Da Costa initially helped the elderly couple by cleaning their home in Cambridge Road, Harrow. As Ursula's disease worsened, Mr Tickner became more dependent on Leonora. Eventually, Leonora took on the role of their full-time carer. This continued after Ursula passed away in May 2012.
Leonora was aware that Harold had a daughter (Karen) and a nephew (Mr Germain) but relations remained strained until shortly before Harold's death on 29 June 2015.
When Harold was diagnosed with terminal cancer in December 2014, he told Leonora that he had made her the main beneficiary under his Will. She was set to inherit Harold's house worth over £400,000. Harold had made this Will in January 2014 with the assistance of his solicitor.
Notes made at the time by Harold's solicitor, and presented during the Court proceedings, show that Harold had intended to leave his daughter and nephew out of the Will altogether. However, his solicitor advised that doing so would leave the Will open to dispute and so Harold gave them £25,000 each.
In April 2015, Harold was admitted to hospital. Leonora was a regular visitor until Harold was transferred to a nursing home on 10 May 2015 where she quickly felt excluded by his family. Karen and Mr Germain also visited Harold.
Sixteen days before his death, Harold made a new Will disinheriting Leonora and leaving £15,000 to Karen. This was witnessed by Mr Germain and his wife. Harold's house was left to Mr Germain in a separate document. Mr Germain argued that the reason for Harold's last minute decision to change his Will was down to the fact that Leonora had failed to visit.
After Harold's death, Mr Germain wrote to Leonora demanding a full account of any gifts that Harold had given to her. It wasn't until Leonora contacted Mr Germain's solicitors that she discovered Harold's second Will.
A four-year legal battle commenced. The issue for the Judge centred on whether Harold had testamentary capacity at the time he changed his Will in favour of his daughter and nephew. The Judge concluded that Harold would not have had the testamentary capacity needed to make the second Will on 13June 2015 and therefore that Will was invalid. Leonora's solicitor argued that if Harold lacked the testamentary capacity to enter into the Will then the same should apply to the letter regarding his house.
Although the 2014 Will was upheld, Leonora will now need to contest the gift of the house made to Mr Germain before she is able to claim her inheritance from the 2014 Will. That case has been set for a later date so watch this space!
Emerald Priscott, Family and Contested Probate Solicitor said: "This decision highlights the importance of making sure that the testator has testamentary capacity to enter into a Will. The legal test for this is well understood by both medical and legal professionals but may not be by the "average man on the street". It is often more important when dealing with an aged or seriously ill testator like Harold because this can sometimes have an impact on their testamentary capacity and because such Wills may be more at risk of being challenged by those who have been disinherited. Mr Germain obviously felt that Harold did have the requisite capacity to change his Will but after hearing evidence from two medical experts and Leonora, the Judge disagreed and so the second Will was declared as invalid. Leonora is delighted by the decision and feels that she had done her best by Harold in ensuring that his wishes are carried out."
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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.