After the widely reported inheritance claim brought by an adult child in the Ilott v Mitson case, the recent case of Brennan v Prior is another example of an adult child disputing their inheritance. Chloe Brennan, a French diplomat’s daughter, made a number of unsuccessful claims against her father’s Will, including lack of due execution, lack of testamentary capacity, lack of knowledge and approval, and undue influence. The unsuccessful claim ended up costing her more than the money she was due to inherit.
Chloe was the only daughter of François Devillebichot, the son of a French diplomat Georges Devillebichot. François had four siblings who did not get along with Chloe. Chloe was to receive £100,000 under he late father’s Will out of an estate valued at £630,000, with the remaining split between the other siblings. She however challenged the validity of the Will and argued for more money.
Amongst other arguments, Chloe alleged that two of her aunts had unduly influenced her late father into making and signing a stationery pack DIY Will. François had a number of health problems and following surgery was only able to communicate using written notes and gestures. He signed his Will in hospital, just seven days before his death.
Chloe also challenged on the grounds of capacity, although everyone agreed that whilst François suffered with serious health issues, he was intelligent and medical records referred to him as being ‘alert’.
Chloe represented herself in court and claimed that her father had been generous, had treated her like a princess and when he was alive made numerous statements that her financial position would be eased after his death.
She further alleged her aunts and their cousins (who were the executors of the estate) conspired to fraudulently propound an invalid Will. Chloe’s husband went as far as to claim that hospital CCTV footage taken on the date of the Will showed other family members arriving and leaving but not the witnesses. This was found to be a completely fabricated allegation and they all denied the accusations, along with additional claims they exerted ‘undue influence’ on their dying brother to get him to make the Will.
Undue influence is particularly hard to prove, requiring ‘coercion’ or ‘pressure’ that overpowered the testator’s (person who wrote the Will) freedom of action with simple persuasion being insufficient. While the judge found that there were examples of influence, the threshold into undue influence was not crossed. He stated that the circumstances were “undoubtedly suspicious”, but on the balance of probabilities and taking into account the circumstances of the case François was likely to have known and approved the contents of the Will.
Chloe’s claims were unsuccessful and the legal costs incurred had to be paid from her £100,000 legacy, although it wasn’t clear if her liability was limited to that amount. The High Court later ruled in the beneficiaries favour and Chloe was personally liable for costs not limited to her legacy. The judge commented that Chloe’s other assets (such as her home) might have to be sold to settle the liability owed for the defendant’s costs in defending her unsuccessful claims.
[judgment of Mr. Herbert QC:  EWHC 2867 (Ch).]
[judgment of Mr Justice Snowden  EWHC 3082 (Ch).]
[We await with interest hearing if Mrs Brennan pursues an appeal and if so the outcome.]
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