Casting Aspersions to Change Inheritance Proves Unsuccessful

Wills made or varied just before death are a frequent source of dispute and court appearances, and it was just such an occurrence that led to a High Court hearing recently.

The case concerned the estate of a woman who died in 2014, two days after making a will leaving everything to one of her two daughters, who was also made executor of the estate. The other daughter contended that the will was procured by 'fraudulent calumny' – the casting of untruthful aspersions against someone else's character which 'caused the discretion and will of the testatrix to be overborn'.

The allegation made was, in effect, that the second daughter had helped herself to a substantial amount of their mother's assets. The daughter who stood to inherit the entirety of the estate claimed that the terms of the will were designed merely to redress the balance between her and her sister as their mother had always wished to divide her estate more or less equally between them. However, her accusation that her sister had taken assets was untrue.

It is important to note that the will could not be set aside just based on the fact that the mother had the mistaken belief that one of the daughters had taken a portion of her assets. It was also necessary for the Court to be satisfied that the mistaken belief was induced by fraudulent calumny.

On the evidence, the Court accepted that this was the case and that the will was invalid. There being no earlier will, the estate must now be administered according to the laws of intestacy.

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In this case, more than €1 million was at stake. Where the estate is worth a significant amount of money, the possibility of conflict is increased. It is unfortunate that the intestacy rules will apply: this could have been avoided had the mother made an earlier will.

For help in ensuring that your will does not end up being the subject of a bitter family dispute, contact us.