The case of Brennan v Prior and others involved a testator, Francois Devillebichot, who left £100,000 to his only child, Chloe, who was estranged from the rest of his family, bequeathed a property to one of his sisters and split the residue of his estate between his other siblings in equal shares.
The claim was brought by his daughter, who had understood that her father had intended to die intestate so that she would inherit his entire estate. The will that he made from his hospital bed a couple of weeks before his death was, she claimed, improperly procured by his sisters, who had encouraged and facilitated it, and who were beneficiaries.
Chloe was estranged from her aunts and uncle to the extent that she had had to obtain a paternity ruling from the court using trace material from Francois' wristwatch – given to her on the day of his funeral - when access to her father's home to obtain better DNA evidence had been resisted.
Chloe claimed that her father’s will was not duly executed, that he did not have capacity to make a will, that he did not have knowledge and approval of the disputed will’s contents or that it was procured by undue influence.
Handing down judgment last week (26 September), Mark Herbert QC, sitting as a deputy judge, held that the will had been validly executed in accordance with section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 because it was in writing, the testator intended by signing it to give effect to the will, and because it was signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses.
Having heard evidence from two doctors and reviewed hospital records, the judge also found that Mr Devillebichot had testamentary capacity at the time he discussed the instructions for the will and at the time it was executed.
Likewise, the testator was held to have known and approved of the will’s contents.
Chloe’s claim that the will was procured by undue influence was also rejected. The judge found that Francois’ sisters actions in influencing him to make his will amounted to persuasion. Crucially, this fell short of coercion, and the testator’s will had not been overborne.