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The Oxford don, disinheritance from his mother’s will and the High Court

I noted in The Times yesterday an article on the case of Oxford don, Christopher Gosden, whose mother left her estate to her civil partner rather than to him.

As a family lawyer with a specialism in representing clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act, I am seeing an increase in cases involving clients who have been cut out of their parent’s will.

So, to the case, in 2003 Jean Waddell, a distinguished doctor, made a will in which she left her entire estate to her son, Christopher Gosden and his wife.

At the same time, her £1.25 million London property was placed into a trust for tax purposes.  This trust was to deliver the property, or the money from its sale, into the hands of her son in a tax-efficient manner.

However, in 2010, Ms Waddell changed her will leaving much of her wealth to her partner, barrister Wendy Cook.  It was also in 2010, that Ms Waddell sold the property in trust for her son without his knowledge, leaving the estate valued at £5,000.

When Ms Waddell passed away in 2013, Mr Gosden ended up with nothing which brings us to the legal case.  Now, this case does not involve an actual claim against the mother’s estate.  Instead, he and his wife are bringing a negligence claim against his late mother’s solicitors that the trust scheme set up in 2003 should have protected the house or the money from its sale and ensured it was passed to him and his family.

The solicitors in question deny any liability and that it was not their role to advise Ms Waddell on the advantages or disadvantages of the trust.

So now, we see the case coming before the High Court last week for a pre-trial hearing and a full trial expected to start this year.

Reading this article, got me thinking about the many emotional and legal difficulties that can arise when a parent effectively disinherits a child.

Broadly speaking, it is difficult for an adult child to bring a successful claim against a parent’s estate if he or she has been cut out of the will.  The court has respect for the principle that a person should be free to leave his or her estate to whomever he or she chooses.

It will be reluctant to go against this principle if an adult child is financially independent.  Whilst it may be upsetting for a child to be disinherited, it can happen and the law carries out an objective assessment of each case.

I discussed the recent Supreme Court case of Illot v Mitson in a recent blog.  See here.  The adult daughter was successful in this case but this was not a “green light” for adult children to think they can bring successful claims.  Each case turns on its own facts and, in my experience, these types of claims are difficult to win.

What is important, if you find yourself in this situation, is to seek expert advice as soon as possible as there are circumstances in which a claim by adult children is more likely to succeed.

For more information on any issues raised in this please contact Theo Hoppen at our Harrogate office below.

Theo Hoppen was a Senior Solicitor in our Harrogate office. He advises on all aspects of family law with a specialism in representing clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act.

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