Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Battle of wills
Peter Burgess's mother changed her will, cutting him out of it and leaving everything to his two sisters, Julia and Libby.
Libby and Peter disputed the new will, claiming their mother was suffering from dementia at the time. Julia insisted she had been quite rational.
When Mrs Burgess died in May 2009 she left around £200,000. But after nearly four years of legal quarrelling, leading to a six-day trial at the English Court of Appeal, that sum has been overtaken by the lawyers' bills.
The Court agreed that Peter Burgess should have been included in the will and that his mother didn't understand the changes she had made.
It astonishes me that people can dig their heels in so stubbornly, to the extent that families are driven apart and absurd amounts of money squandered in the name of pride, greed and self-righteousness.
Just a tiny bit of flexibility and common sense would have avoided the whole debacle and left them all with a handy windfall rather than a gaggle of lawyers looking forward to a fat profit.
Friends and relatives must have urged the three siblings countless times to settle their differences and bring the dispute to an end, but to no avail, and the lumbering machinery of the law took over.
The problem arose of course with the existence of two wills, and the question of which one was valid. Changing one's will is always a hazardous business, liable to just that sort of posthumous wrangling instead of a straightforward transfer of assets.
The strong suspicion is that Mrs Burgess was pressured into making the change, though it seems the court made no comment on that. But it was certainly a change with devastating consequences.
Pic: not the siblings in question