This recent case in the Court of Appeal makes for sad reading. A family at war over money, disputes over who promised what to whom, sibling rivalry and mental capacity issues have resulted in a trip back to court for the Moore family following a 2016 decision in son Stephen's favour.
Private client practitioners will know that this scenario is not uncommon. Particularly in cases where one sibling is involved in a family business and another is not, tensions often run high. An experienced practitioner will be aware of future problems that can arise and should be giving advice to prevent or minimise these occurring and dealing with issues at the outset before they get out of hand.
Ideally, affairs should be put in order from the start, with intentions evidenced clearly in writing and reviewed periodically to ensure current wishes are still reflected, not least, as this case shows, because you cannot rely on mental capacity always being present.
Communication between testators and potential beneficiaries should be encouraged, especially if there is unequal treatment between beneficiaries, so that any problems can be addressed at that stage. Clients should be thinking about competing beneficial interests and discussing how best to provide for those they wish to provide for including whether or not they have made promises of assets to someone who has relied on these to their detriment. They should be made aware that failure to make good on such promises may mean that the disappointed party has a claim.
However, often it is not possible to prevent problems and they occur in spite of your best efforts. In the unfortunate event of conflict or a situation where a party believes they are entitled to more than they have been left, proprietary estoppel can be a useful remedy and Central Law Training offers training that practitioners may wish to take advantage of:
Proprietary Estoppel - Where Are We Now? on-demand webinar, see https://www.clt.co.uk/webinar/Proprietary-Estoppel-Where-Are-We-Now-Webinar-OnDemand/ for further details
Contentious Probate and Will Disputes: Developing Your Knowledge five-hour face to face course, see https://www.clt.co.uk/course/Contentious-Probate-and-Will-Disputes-Developing-Your-Knowledge/ for further details
In 2012, Mr Moore learned that his parents had written him out of their wills. The couple had left their £5million share of the estate - which was in his father's name - to Mr Moore's sister Julie instead. He successfully challenged the move in 2016, claiming his father, who now lives in a care home and has advanced dementia, repeatedly promised the estate would all be his one day. Mr Moore is the only family member of his generation "passionate about farming" and "now in effect runs the farm alone", his barrister Caroline Shea told London's Court of Appeal.