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Disputed will: a case of undue influence

A recent battle in the High Court shows the consequences of a will written without the help of a lawyer and then challenged on the grounds of undue influence, says Lodders’ contentious probate specialist, Caroline Cowley.

The case (Re Ho Chau Ying Chin [2019] EWHC 523 (Ch)), saw three sisters challenge their mother’s will. They said that undue influence applied, and that their mother had insufficient knowledge and approval of the contents of the will.

Under the will, the three women who brought the case, and also their two sisters who didn’t take part in the legal challenge, were disinherited. Their only brother received nearly all their mother’s estate.

Ho Chin, from Southend in Essex, amassed a fortune of £3 million through a successful restaurant business and property investments.

Her husband was a ‘traditionalist’ and wanted the entire fortune to pass to their son. Mrs Chin, however, made a will in 2009 which split her share of the family’s restaurant between all six of her children. In 2011, following a stroke which left her dependent on her husband and son, and after many arguments and much pressure, Mrs Chin changed her will. She disinherited her five daughters.

When she died in 2015, her share in the family restaurant passed to her son, 53-year-old Winston.

Mrs Chin’s daughter Ivy, backed by sisters Rose and Ruby, claimed that their mother did not understand the contents of her final will, and signed it under influence from her husband and son.

At the High Court, the judge agreed that Mrs Chin had changed her will under “undue influence of her husband and/or son” and “for the sake of a quiet life”, without realising the implications.

The judge overturned the 2011 will and a lifetime gift of the property to Mrs Chin’s son. The 2009 will was upheld, and Mrs Chin’s residuary estate is to be split between the six siblings.

Undue influence

This case demonstrates the importance of wills being professionally drawn-up and executed. It also shows how, when proven, claims of undue influence can result in a will being overturned.

For a will to be valid, the testator must have the capacity to understand its nature and effect. It’s important to look out for changes made to wills that seem surprising or out of character.

A claim of undue influence is notoriously difficult to make out, but as this case shows, despite the high evidential threshold, these claims can succeed.

Caroline Cowley is a solicitor in Lodders’ Dispute Resolution team, specialising in contentious probate. For more information, please contact Caroline, or Sofia Tayton, a partner in Lodders’ Private Client department, and read our recent blog on disputed estates.

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For more information, please contact Caroline Cowley on 01242 229090 or via email or Sofia Tayton on 01789 206151 or via email.