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Woman who disowned mother fails in claim on estate

Monday, 10 November, 2014

A woman who wrote to her mother formally disowning her and wishing her dead has forfeited her right to a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on her mother's estate, the England and Wales High Court has ruled.

The late Mary Waters, mother of Patricia Wright and David Waters (now both in their sixties) executed her last will in January 2009, two years before her death. In it, she left her entire GBP138,000 estate to David Waters and his wife and children, apart from legacies to other relatives. It made no provision at all for Patricia Wright or her children and grandchildren.

After Waters' death, Patricia Wright made two claims on her estate. One was a proprietary estoppel claim, to the effect that her parents (who were shopkeepers) promised her an inheritance, at least partially on the basis that she had worked unpaid in their shops when she was a young woman.

Judge Behrens rejected this claim on the basis that there was not enough evidence that Patricia Wright's parents had made her clear representations that she could expect to rely on.

The other claim was a request for reasonable provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. In support of this, Wright cited the fact that she was the deceased's daughter, that she had helped in her shop, that she now suffers from serious ill health, and that she is in need of money.

In considering the request, the judge was entitled to consider Wright's conduct toward her mother – Mary Waters had left a letter explaining her reasons for disinheriting her daughter. A key element was that Mary Waters had sent her daughter GBP10,000 to invest on her behalf in 1998, but Patricia Wright later refused to return this money, insisting that it was a gift. In her letter of wishes, Mary Waters stated: ‘My daughter has already taken without my consent GBP10,000 of my savings’.

There had later been a serious falling-out between mother and daughter on other more personal matters. These quarrels culminated in Patricia Wright sending her mother a letter disowning her and wishing her dead, and stating that she did not wish to communicate with her any more. There was no further contact between them.

David Waters (Mary Waters' executor) contended that this behaviour disqualified his sister from any claim on the estate. The judge agreed. He did not believe Patricia Wright’s assertion that the GBP10,000 she received from her mother during her lifetime was a gift. Moreover he noted that her intemperate letter to her mother was not a single outburst, but was linked to a refusal to communicate with her for nine years.

‘My value judgment is that Patricia Wright’s conduct outweighs all of the factors in her favour’, he concluded. ‘[...] It was objectively reasonable on the facts as known to me today for the will made by Mary Waters on 27 January 2009 to make no provision for Patricia Wright. It follows that the claim under the 1975 Act fails.’ (Wright v Waters, 2014 EWHC 3614 Ch).

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