Court upholds elderly woman’s gift of estate to friend

27 June 2011

The England & Wales High Court has rejected a challenge brought by a Mrs Leigh Cowderoy against her grandmother’s will.

The grandmother, Helen Blofield of Colchester, died in October 2008 at the age of 85. She had executed a will in November 2006 appointing one Lionel Cranfield as her sole executor and legatee. The will was prepared by a Mr. Jones, a probate and trust practitioner who was not a solicitor but worked for a Colchester firm of solicitors. It was witnessed by Mr. Jones and his legal secretary.

Mr. Cranfield was a neighbour who had become a family friend and had to some extent helped look after Mrs Blofield in her old age. He also visited her regularly after she moved into residential care.

Mr. Cranfield duly obtained a grant of probate. The net value of the estate, mostly consisting of the old lady’s house, was declared to be GBP149,000.

Mrs Cowderoy was out of the UK during much of this time. After her return, apparently at the prompting of her solicitors, Stones, she brought an action for revocation of the grant. She cited three grounds: that the testator had lacked capacity, that she did not know and approve the contents of the will, and that Mr. Cranfield procured the will by undue influence.

As always in such cases, the evidence given was confusing. The parties’ relations with Mrs Blofield’s alcoholic son – who was also Mrs Cowderoy’s father and who predeceased them both – were a complicating factor. So was the fact that Mrs Blofield had previously instructed another firm of solicitors to prepare her will, and then retracted her instructions. The employees of that firm had doubts about her  testamentary capacity at that point.

But in the event, Mr. Justice Morgan disagreed with the claimant. He considered her evidence to be heavily influenced by distrust of Mr. Cranfield, and her own interests as the sole beneficiary in intestacy.

He decided that there was no evidence that Mrs Blofield had not known of the will’s contents, or that she was the victim of undue influence. And, although the evidence was that at the time of execution she had had “good days and bad days”, there was no real evidence of incapacity. According he ruled the will had been rightly admitted to probate (Cowderoy v Cranfield 2011 EWHC 1616).






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