Two sons have lost their entire £200,000 inheritance from their father’s will in failed legal action to stop their stepmother getting an extra £25,000.
This is another example of a costly inheritance dispute following hard on the heels of the Iliot case. In essence the moral of the story is that it can be completely counter productive bringing legal proceedings where the costs risk outweighing the damages, unless of course you have legal expenses insurance and an after the event insurance policy to protect you if you lose.
Jonathan and Richard Powell took their stepmother to court claiming their father’s will, which gave her £125,000, was void. A judge disagreed and ordered they pay the costs of the proceedings, which total £200,000.
The Judge ruled that:
‘She should not have been put to the trouble and expense of proving this claim on the tenuous basis of challenge advanced by Richard and Jonathan Powell,’ ‘My conclusion is that their position has not been reasonable at any point in this litigation.’
‘Their stance has, it is apparent to me, been driven by personal issues and not by a reasonable inquiry into their father’s state of mind.’
Central London County Court heard that Mr Powell senior had died aged 84.
His second wife said that a will made in 2009 in which she was left £125,000 was her husband’s last true will. The brothers were bequeathed £62,500 each.
However, the brothers said a will made 18 months earlier in 2008, in which she and they split the estate three ways, was the last valid will. Therefore the brothers were claiming the difference.
The widow’s barrister said that the brothers were simply trying to:
‘enrich’ themselves in the hope that the widow would ‘lack the stomach or means to fight.’
Having lost the case, the brothers argued that the £200,000 costs of the case should be paid out of their father’s estate.
But the judge said that would result in it being almost completely wiped out, with everyone losing their inheritance.
He said it was no one’s fault but theirs that the case had ended up in court, where, by the end of the trial, they were contesting only £25,000 of their step-mother’s inheritance.
It means neither brother will ever see a penny of their £62,500 inheritance, as that money will go straight to lawyers to begin paying off the costs bill. The court heard that the step mother had tried to settle the case outside court and found it
that it had actually gone to trial.
The decision may seem unfair on the brothers as the Court was effectively saying that they shouldn’t have brought the case but should have settled it earlier. However, no litigation is free and the brothers should have been aware of the risk that they could lose everything. The alternative would have been that the step mother would have lost her own inheritance thanks to no fault of her own. Once again the Court was sending the consistent message that it is better to try no resolve family disputes such as this outside Court.