Nephew Wins High Court Battle with Animal Charities
Seven animal charities who were beneficiaries of an estate have lost a High Court battle with the deceased’s nephew.
June Fairbrother died in April 2011. She had made a Will in 1998, leaving her home, valued at £350,000 to charities.
Ms Fairbrother’s nephew, Kenneth King, moved in with his aunt during her final years to care for her and he argued, successfully, that she had gifted the property to him shortly before her death to enable him to remain there and care for her cats and dogs.
Mr King relied on an unusual legal doctrine called ‘donatio mortis causa’ which is a gift made in contemplation of death. The gift only takes effect on death and there must be a delivery of the gift or something representing the gift which is accepted by the recipient of the gift. In this case, Mr King stated that his aunt had handed him the title deeds and said the house would be “yours when I go”.
The deceased had signed documents which although not valid wills, had left the property to Mr King. The judge decided that this was ‘powerful and corroborative evidence’ that her intentions had changed from what was set out in her last valid Will.
Lawyers representing the charities argued that Mr King was unreliable; he had twice been made bankrupt and had been jailed for acting as a company director when disqualified. They alleged his argument was “too convenient by far”.
It is thought that the animal charities are considering appealing this decision.
Disputes such as this, which commonly involve estates being left to charities, are not unusual. Ridley & Hall have an expert contentious probate department who can offer specialist legal advice in inheritance disputes.