Claim against an estate: Evidence is king
It is trite to say it, but without the necessary evidence to support it, any case is bound to fail. This is as true of family-related matters as it is of criminal cases. As we will see, it is also true when making a claim against an estate.
Before I go any further, I should explain that reports of the case to which I am about to refer have, to my knowledge, only thus far appeared in the ‘mainstream’ media. As far as I am aware, there is no publicly-available report of the judgment itself. Without seeing the judgment I cannot be absolutely sure of the facts of the case, or what the judge said. I have therefore had to make one or two assumptions (apologies to all concerned if any of these are incorrect), and the reports are also contradictory on at least one point, as mentioned below. Obviously, these matters should be borne in mind when reading what follows.
OK, so to the case, which concerned a claim by a woman against the estate of her late fiancé.
The relevant facts of the case were as follows.
The fiancé was a millionaire businessman, Charles Caudle. The reports do not give the total value of his estate, but it included an offshore trust fund worth some £8.6 million, a ‘mansion’ in Dorset worth either £4 or £8 million, depending upon which report you read, and an accompanying bungalow worth £300,000.
Mr Caudle was previously married to Rebecca Muddeman. They have a son, now aged 19. They were divorced in 2007.
In the following year, Mr Caudle began a relationship with a fellow business owner, Lucy Blyth. Shortly thereafter Ms Blyth moved into Mr Caudle’s mansion, along with her three children, and at some point they became engaged.
In 2010 Ms Blyth and her children moved out of the mansion, and into the bungalow. The reasons for this were in dispute. Ms Blyth claimed that it was not due to the breakdown of her relationship with Mr Caudle, but rather because of friction between his son and her children. The relationship, she claimed, continued.
In 2014 Mr Caudle executed his last Will. The reports do not detail exactly how the estate was distributed by the Will, save that the son was to be the beneficiary of the trust fund, and Ms Blyth, although named by Mr Caudle in the Will as his fiancée, was to receive a share of his residuary estate, after all, other specific gifts and legacies had been paid out. We are not told how much the residual estate was worth, but Ms Blyth only received an ‘insignificant’ amount from the estate.
Letter of wishes
In particular, the Will did not leave the bungalow to Ms Blyth. The reports suggest that the Will left this to Ms Muddeman. Ms Blyth, however, claimed that Mr Caudle had assured her that she would ‘keep a roof over her head’, and that he had signed a ‘letter of wishes’ accompanying the Will, indicating that she could remain in the bungalow. However, no such letter was found.
Mr Caudle died in 2016. The events thereafter are not clear, but it appears that Ms Muddeman obtained an order for possession of the bungalow from Ms Blyth, which Ms Blyth sought to oppose by contesting the Will, claiming that Mr Caudle had intended that she should remain there.
The matter was dealt with by District Judge Langley in the Central London County Court. She found it unlikely that Mr Caudle would have signed a letter of wishes but not placed it with the Will, given that he had a reputation of having great attention to detail. She also found that the relationship between Mr Caudle and Ms Blyth had probably ended when she moved into the bungalow and that there was no evidence that Mr Caudle had intended that she should have the bungalow, or remain there after his death.
Accordingly, Ms Blyth’s claim failed. She will have to vacate the bungalow. She has also been ordered to pay costs, reportedly of £78,000.
For more information regarding contesting a Will, see here.
Get in touch
If you would like any advice on Wills or inheritance disputes, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers here.