Solicitor rewrote aunts’ wills without informed consent
21 May 2012
Two wills drafted by a Hampshire solicitor for
his elderly aunts, making him a major beneficiary of their estates,
have been declared invalid.
The two women, Hannah Harris and Rosette
Harris Emmanuel, were sisters and lived together in Southsea, where
their nephew Michael Harris operated a practice. They had both
executed earlier wills dividing their estates between their
great-niece Sara Cushway and great-nephew Sebastian Elliot, both of
whom live overseas.
Harris visited his aunts in late December
2005, and soon afterwards produced new wills which they executed.
These wills left a third of their estates to him. Rosette, who was
84, died soon afterwards in January 2006, and Hannah Harris died
the following year aged 91.
The disinherited great-niece and great-nephew
challenged the wills. After a long dispute, the England & Wales
High Court (EWHC) has now ruled that Harris did not obtain the
testators’ full knowledge and approval when adding new clauses. Mr
Justice Henderson noted that both women were in hospital at the
time and had very poor eyesight. Rosette was taking opiate drugs
for her cancer, and there was doubt about Hannah’s mental capacity,
as she had dementia.
The court thus overturned the 2006 wills and
reinstated the earlier ones that left the estates to the
great-niece and great-nephew.
The estates’ original combined value was
estimated at GBP400,000, but Harris had obtained power of attorney
over both the women’s affairs when he visited them. He has already
distributed Rosette’s estate, and has ‘depleted’ most of Hannah’s,
the court was told. He is now aged over 70 with no assets. Mr
Justice Henderson has referred the case to the Crown Prosecution
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