Salmon v Williams-Reid and others


Reference:
[2010] EWHC 1315 Ch

Date:
8th June 2010

Court:
High Court

Comment:

The claimant and the third defendant were two of the children of the late Ethel Louise Hayles. The first defendant was attorney for one of the executors under a home-made Will purportedly made by the deceased, and the second defendant was the other executor. The third defendant was the prime, but not the only, beneficiary under the Will. The claimant’s daughter received £15,000 under the Will, but the claimant only received £1, and some uncomplimentary comments. The Will was dated 19 August 2005, but a date three days later appeared by the signature of one of the witnesses. There was evidence that the claimant had been estranged from the deceased, whereas the third defendant had cared for her. The claimant alleged that the signature of the deceased on the Will had been forged; that the deceased did not know and approve of the contents of the Will; and that the Will was not duly executed and attested.

 

Held:

(1) The signature on the Will was that of the deceased. Evidence that had appeared to support the allegation of forgery had been nullified by further evidence; the opinion of the joint handwriting expert was that the evidence from the signature and other signatures was inconclusive; and the evidence of witnesses that the deceased had signed was convincing.

 

(2) The evidence that was adduced was sufficient to explain the discrepancy in the dates, and otherwise establish due execution; the presumption of due execution, based upon the proper attestation clause in the Will, supported this conclusion.

 

(3) On the evidence, the deceased knew and approved of the contents of the Will.

 

The result of the case largely turned on the evidence of the witnesses. There were, however, three features worth noting. (1) The forgery allegation derived support from certain evidence that appeared to be of considerable weight, and was only shown to be of much less weight shortly before trial. Although in the circumstances no blame could be attached to anyone, what happened demonstrates the benefit to all parties of evidence being brought forward promptly. (2) The discrepancy in the dates on the Will was a ground for investigation, and after the trial that was reflected in the costs order, the claimant only being ordered to pay part of the defendants’ costs (she had legal aid protection, but the willingness of the court in probate actions to make a qualified order for costs in such circumstances is important: see Williams, Mortimer and Sunnucks on Executors, Administrators and Probate, at 40-06). (3) Efforts to compromise the case immediately before the trial were hindered by the fact that the claimant was publicly funded, and there was no time to refer the compromise proposals to the Legal Services Commission. This illustrates the benefit to all parties of compromise proposals being made earlier rather than later.


Practice Areas:

© New Square Chambers Ltd