Wharton v Bancroft and Others: ChD 8 Dec 2011

Mr Wharton anticipated his imminent death. He made a will leaving everything to his long time partner in anticipation of their marriage, married her and died a few days later. The will made no provision for his first wife or their now adult daughters who challenged the will for lack of capacity and undue influence: ‘that Mr Wharton was terminally ill and on medication may say something about the opportunity to exercise undue influence: but it says nothing about whether that opportunity was taken’.
Held: The challenge failed and the court pronounced for the will. As to undue influence, the court had to be minded as to the burden and standard of proof, and ‘Is evidence of a departure from imprecisely expressed intentions evidence which is sufficiently cogent to persuade me that the explanation for the departure is that Mr Wharton’s volition was overborne by coercion, rather than that on his deathbed he saw things differently than he had in life? I answer that question in the negative. The imminence of death undoubtedly caused Mr Wharton to reassess matters. That is why he intended to get married. It was in the light of that intention that he made the 2008 Will. I do not regard it as suspicious that a ‘husband’ should leave to his ‘wife’ of 32 years the entirety of his estate, even if he is a rich man. The difference between the former indications and the actual terms of the 2008 Will are not in this case sufficiently cogent evidence to found the inference of coercion (particularly in the light of the consistent advice Mr Wharton had received as to the way of mitigating the now-imminent tax charge). I see no reason to treat Mr Wharton’s statements to Mr Bancroft (and the implication of his statement to Zena) about leaving his estate to Maureen as anything other than expressions of free will.’
The solicitor was not to be criticised for not following the ‘golden rule’ of securing the attendance of an independent medical expert to confirm the tetstaor’s capacity: ‘But testamentary capacity is not in issue in this case. I consider the criticism of Mr Bancroft for a failure to follow ‘the golden rule’ to be misplaced. His job was to take the will of a dying man. A solicitor so placed cannot simply conjure up a medical attendant. He must obtain his client’s consent to the attendance of and examination by a doctor. He must procure the attendance of a doctor (preferably the testator’s own) who is willing to accept the instruction. He must make arrangement for any relevant payment (securing his client’s agreement). I do not think Mr Bancroft is to be criticised for deciding to make his own assessment (accepted as correct) and to get on with the job of drawing a will in contemplation of marriage so that Mr Wharton could marry. I certainly do not think that ‘the golden rule’ has in the present case anything to do with the ease with which I may infer coercion. The simple fact is that Mr Wharton was a terminally ill but capable testator.’

Norris J
[2011] EWHC 3250 (Ch)
England and Wales
CitedWingrove v Wingrove 19-Nov-1885
To establish the presence of undue influence it is not enough to establish that a person has the power to overbear the will of the testator. It must be shown that the will was a result of the exercise of that power
Sir James Hannen said: ‘To . .
CitedCowderoy v Cranfield ChD 24-Jun-2011
The claimant challenged a will alleging lack of capacity, non-approval and undue influence.
Held: Morgan J discussed the standard of proof applicable: ‘The requisite standard is proof on the balance of probabilities but as the allegation of . .
CitedGill v Woodall and Others CA 14-Dec-2010
The court considered the authorities as to the capacity to make a will, and gave detailed guidance.
Held: As a matter of common sense and authority, the fact that a will has been properly executed, after being prepared by a solicitor and read . .
CitedKey and Another v Key and Others ChD 5-Mar-2010
The will was challenged for want of testamentary capacity. The testator was 89 years old, and the will was made within a week of the death of his wife of 65 years and without the solicitor having taken any proper steps to satisfy himself as to the . .
CitedGill v Woodall and Others ChD 5-Oct-2009
The claimant challenged her late mother’s will which had left the entire estate to a charity. She asserted lack of knowledge and approval and coercion, and also an estoppel. The will included a note explaining that no gift had been made because she . .
CitedKillick v Pountney and Another; Re Killick Deceased ChD 31-Mar-1999
Mr Killick’s will was challenged on the basis that it had been executed under undue influence, and that he had suffered dementia. The deceased’s nephew alleged that the beneficiaries had used their position to influence him to make the will in their . .
CitedChannon and Another v Perkins (A Firm) CA 1-Dec-2005
A will was challenged by the family. The witnesses had said that they did not remember witnessing the deceased sign the will, and would have done. The principle beneficiary appealed refusal of admission to probate of the will.
Held: Neuberger . .
CitedEdwards v Edwards and others ChD 3-May-2007
Family members challenged the will saying that one son had exercised undue influence over the testatrix.
Held: The beneficiary son had poisoned his mother’s mind against the other family members. The will would be set aside for his undue . .
CitedHoff and others v Atherton CA 19-Nov-2004
Appeals were made against pronouncements for the validity of a will and against the validity of an earlier will. The solicitor drawing the will was to receive a benefit, and had requested an independent solicitor to see the testatrix and ensure that . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Wills and Probate, Undue Influence, Legal Professions

Updated: 05 January 2022; Ref: scu.449871