It is not uncommon for people to make wills in terms that may seem unfair, or even irrational. Family members can be left wondering whether the will actually represented the person’s wishes, or if anything can be done about it.
In a recent case the will of Norman Walter Gill, property tycoon and millionaire, was upheld despite leaving just £5,000 to each of his children.
Norman was by all accounts a difficult character. He was described as lacking human warmth and empathy, and in 1979 he was charged with conspiring to murder his wife. Experts concluded that he had been suffering from a significant psychiatric disturbance at the time.
Norman was financially generous towards his children during his lifetime but used his wealth as a means of control. By 2013 Norman’s relationships with his children had effectively broken down. He made attempts to re-start his relationships in later years, but these were unsuccessful.
In 2015 Norman executed a will that left legacies of £175,000 to close family members, with his residuary estate being left to a family trust.
In 2018 Norman changed his will to leave just £5,000 to each of his children. Substantial legacies totalling around £2 million were left to extended family, friends, associates, and carers. His residuary estate (estimated to be worth around £4 million) was left to a charitable trust.
Norman died on 30 March 2018 after suffering a stroke. His estate was worth around £5.3 million.
It was alleged that Norman’s will was irrational, and inconsistent with the previous wills that he had made over the last 30 years. It was also argued that his personality disorder had poisoned his natural affections for his children, and that his health problems had affected his decision making.
Judge Williams decided that whilst Norman’s decision to disinherit his children and grandchildren may have been unfair, it was not irrational. The terms of Norman’s will could be explained by his personality, and the fact that his children hadn’t wanted to renew a relationship with him. Norman may well have suffered from a personality disorder, but this did not mean that he did not have capacity to make a will. There were no circumstances to excite suspicion that the will did not represent Norman’s intentions, and the judge concluded that the will was valid.
This case highlights that an unfair will is not automatically invalid. However, if a will seems unfair or irrational this may point to underlying problems. For example, the person making the will might not have had testamentary capacity, or they might have been influenced by another person.
If you have any concerns about the validity of a will, please contact us and one of our specialist team will be able to assist you.