Will validity challenge dismissed after grandfather gifts grandchildren £50 each for failing to visit him often enough

March 20, 2024

By Patrick Murphy

A High Court Judge has dismissed a claim by the grandchildren of the deceased challenging the validity of a will which left most of his £500,000 estate to his children, and just £50 to each of the claimants, after he was ‘disappointed’ and ‘hurt’ that they did not visit him enough.

Frederick Ward Snr passed away in 2020 at the age of 91, leaving a will from 2018 which gifted the majority of his assets, including a £450,000 property, to his surviving children and gifting £50 to each of his five granddaughters.

The granddaughters, who challenged the will, claimed – and it was acknowledged by the Judge, Master James Brightwell – that Frederick Snr had previously intended for them to receive a significant share of his estate, and argued that they should be entitled to a share of the estate which was the equivalent to what their father, Fred Jnr., would have received if he had been alive.

Ward, an ex-soldier, expressed his disappointment that his late son’s children did not come to visit him enough, particularly when he had been hospitalised on three occasions for a lung condition. He therefore decided to gift them just £50 each.

Undue influence

The claimants argued that the will was invalid, claiming that Frederick Snr lacked capacity at the time he changed his will, and/or that he had been unduly influenced by his surviving children, who – they claimed – persuaded him to into changing his will so they would receive what the grandchildren perceived to be ‘their’ share of the estate.

The Judge, High Court Master James Brightwell, found the will to be “entirely rational” and emphasised that the decision to split the bulk of the estate between his surviving children “can hardly be said to be a provision which no reasonable testator could make” highlighting the limited contact between Frederick Snr and the claimants in his later years as being a relevant and acceptable factor in his decision to limit his grandchildren’s entitlement to £50 each.

The Judge therefore found that there was insufficient evidence to support allegations of undue influence by Frederick Snr’s children: “the evidence does not come close to persuading me that it is more likely than not that the 2018 will was procured by the undue influence of the defendants.” Similarly, the claimants failed to provide sufficient evidence that Frederick Snr lacked capacity to make the will in 2018.

Lessons from the case

This case, which has generated media interest due to the stark contrast between the £500,000 value of the estate against the £50 gifts to each of the claimants, demonstrates the importance of claimants claiming undue influence being able to establish that the provisions of the deceased’s will were not rational; it is not enough to argue that a person pressurised the deceased into making or changing a will.

In this case, the Judge was satisfied that on the basis of the evidence provided, Frederick Snr’s decision to limit the granddaughters’ inheritance to just £50 each was rational given the fact that they had limited contact with him in his later years, and he therefore found that he had not been unduly influenced to change his will.

Accordingly, the will was declared valid and the grandchildren’s claim was dismissed, leaving them with £50 each and – most likely – a substantial costs order requiring them to pay the defendants’ costs.

Considering challenging a will?

If you have been left out of a will, or you suspect someone has been unduly influenced by someone close to them to change their will, contact one of our experts for a free, no-obligation consultation and let us explain how we can help you. Please contact us on 02920 829 100, visit our contact page, or fill out the enquiry form on this page.

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