‘Mum’s toyboy lover challenged her will’
Your will may not be as watertight as you think, experts have warned, as the final wishes of the deceased are being increasingly challenged in court by those who feel aggrieved at being left out. One family told Telegraph Money that they have effectively lost their inheritance to a “secret toyboy” lover, who made a successful claim against the will of their late mother in Birmingham County Court earlier this month.
In a case presided over by Judge Rawlings, the Epton family attempted to defend a claim against the will and estate of Norma Hall by Raymond Brader.
Janette Epton, 65, the daughter of Mrs Hall, and Lisa Epton, 39, the granddaughter, were to be the main beneficiaries of her estate. Mrs Hall’s will was written in 2001 and, according to Jeff Epton, 67, her son-in-law, she had left two thirds of her estate to Janette and the rest to Lisa. The value of the estate stood at about £280,000, he said, including a £200,000 bungalow in Nuneaton.
However, the court found that the will did not make a reasonable financial provision for Mr Brader, Mrs Hall’s romantic partner, who was some 20 years her junior. While the Eptons would inherit the Nuneaton property and the remaining £80,000 or so in other assets, the court ruled that Mr Brader should be granted a rent-free lifetime tenancy in the bungalow, where he had lived with Mrs Hall.
The court also found that the Epton family should pay 75pc of Mr Brader’s legal fees, starting with an interim payment of £15,000 by 4pm on Oct 3.
Mr Epton, a retired bank manager, said he believed Mr Brader’s story to be “a tissue of lies and fabrications”.
He said the family had been completely unaware of any romantic relationship between Mr Brader and the late Mrs Hall until later in her life, when she moved to a care home and began to suffer from dementia. Only then, Mr Epton said, did Mr Brader begin to describe their relationship as romantic.
“We later learnt that he had been living in the property with her, unbeknown to us,” he said. “Before that they always referred to each other as friends. When she went into care and certainly after she died, he suddenly referred to her as his partner and he challenged her will on that basis.” Mr Brader could not be reached for comment.
Mr Epton said he felt his wife, who is a similar age to Mr Brader, had been effectively denied her inheritance as she will be unable to live in or sell the property until Mr Brader’s death.
On top of this, Mr Epton said a large chunk of the remaining inheritance would be eaten up in legal fees, which they estimated to be in the region of £80,000. “Our own fees are about £40,000 and we are having to pay most of his,” he said. “If we didn’t have that cash from the estate available to us, we would have little way of paying these fees shy of raiding my own life savings.”
Gary Rycroft, of solicitors Joseph A Jones, said people ran the risk of their wills being challenged if they did not make reasonable provision for people such as partners or financial dependants, who could have a claim.
Unless you write off the risk of your will being contested by making a small provision, he said, a claimant could end up taking a significant share of your legacy.
Ian Bond of Higgs & Sons, another law firm, said more people were having to include letters and memorandums in their wills to head off the increasing number of claims being made.
“We are living in an austere society where people have become more open to the idea of challenging wills, even for relatively small sums of money,” he said.
Mr Bond said he had seen numerous examples of inheritance squabbles over estates worth only tens of thousands of pounds, where expensive legal fees often ended up wiping out any eventual windfall.
He recommended that people kept their wills up to date and made any necessary provisions in line with changes to their circumstances: divorce, a new partner, moving in with someone or having children.
“If you do not keep your will up to date, the more the years pass the more you open up the opportunity for people to make a claim,” he said.
Almost three quarters of the adult population have not made a will, according to Co-op Funeralcare, the funeral director.
While there is a possibility you will be challenged if you exclude someone who is a significant part of your life, writing your wishes into a will is still the best way to ensure your assets will be passed on to the right people after your death, Mr Rycroft said.
He added that if you wanted to make your will “watertight” you could include a written statement alongside your will that clearly sets out why you have excluded someone. If a dispute is raised later on, this will make your final wishes more defensible in court.
“You need to be forward thinking in your planning and very frank with yourself about your personal circumstances and who depends on you financially,” Mr Rycroft said.
The final wishes of deceased family members are being contested in court more than ever, says Harry Brennan
The competition watchdog has launched a major investigation into how longstanding customers lose out on more than £4bn a year as the result of exploitation by banks, insurers and telecoms firms.
Citizens Advice, which made a “super complaint” to the regulator, said consumers in five markets were paying a “loyalty penalty”, with eight in 10 people paying too much in at least one market.
It identified savings accounts, mortgages, home insurance, mobile contracts and broadband deals as the areas where customers were most likely to be rolled over into uncompetitive products.
For instance, it is thought that up to 50pc of broadband customers are sleepwalking into poorvalue deals by failing to switch when introductory offers end.
A spokesman for Citizens Advice said: “It’s outrageous that eight in 10 people are having to pay a significantly higher price in at least one of the markets for remaining with their existing supplier.” On average, customers are losing out to the tune of £877 a year, or 3pc of the annual cost of running a typical household, the charity said.
Simon McCulloch, director of price comparison website Compare the Market, said: “Inertia is a systemic problem, which providers often take advantage of. When it comes to buying financial products, customer loyalty is rarely rewarded.”
The competition watchdog has promised to respond within 90 days with recommendations to the Government.
Legal fees often end up wiping out any eventual windfall
Janette and Jeff Epton say their family has effectively lost a £280,000 inheritance after the will of Mrs Epton’s mother was successfully challenged in court
Missing out? Mobile phone customers could be on uncompetitive rates