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Three sisters who challenged their late father’s will have lost their battle at the High Court.
The will was made the day George Wharton, who was suffering from terminal cancer, was discharged from hospital, in anticipation of his marriage to a woman who had been his partner for more than 30 years. This took place the same day. The will left Mr Wharton’s entire estate to his new wife, Maureen. His three daughters, who were not present at the wedding, and his grandchildren were excluded from the new will.
Mr Wharton’s partner of many years had been instrumental in helping him build up a successful leisure business in Kent. She claimed that the couple had a longstanding agreement that they would marry if either of them developed a terminal condition. His daughters claimed, however, that she had used undue influence over their father, at a time when he was weak, in order to persuade him to write a new will in her favour. Mr Wharton’s solicitor, who had been a witness at the wedding, testified that the instructions he had received regarding the new will had been clear.
Mr Justice Norris ruled that there was ‘nothing in the least suspicious’ in the couple’s actions, adding, “It was always Mr Wharton’s intention to marry on his deathbed. As he approached death he announced his intention to marry. He quite plainly understood marriage as a solution to the inheritance tax problem which overhung the business he and Maureen had created and for which he had made no provision.”
Furthermore, the judge was in no doubt that Mr Wharton had the mental capacity to decide to get married and that the marriage was valid.
This case illustrates how easy it is for acrimonious disputes to develop in families when arrangements are left until the last minute. It is sensible to take tax planning measures sooner rather than later, and to execute your will and make arrangements for the administration of your estate in a timely manner and in a way that diminishes the scope for any dispute.