Court Aids Widow by Correcting Obvious Error in Will

Wills are written in a style which many would describe as ‘legalese’ but, as any lawyer will tell you, absolute precision is the objective. In one case which illustrates the point, a clerical error which resulted in three crucial words being omitted from a man’s will required a High Court hearing to remedy. The missing words were ‘to my wife’. The omission meant that the relevant part of the will did not identify a beneficiary and the man’s widow was left at risk of losing her home. Had the Court not intervened, the error would have meant that the man died partially intestate, with part of his estate passing to…

High Court Rules on Residential Development Contract Gone Bad

Building projects inevitably go wrong sometimes and those involved in such cases are wise to seek legal advice to achieve a swift and low-cost resolution. In a case where that did not happen, the High Court found both the developer of a residential property and the owner of the land on which it was built in breach of contract. The owner had engaged the developer to build the house but, by the time it was approaching completion, their relationship had broken down. The owner decided to complete the work himself, without any further input from the developer, and the property remained on the market five years after it should have…

In the Style to Which One Wishes to Become Accustomed

Divorce cases involving the very rich are over-represented in court reports for the simple reason that where the family is very wealthy, the costs of arguing over the division of the assets are deemed to be worth incurring, which may not be the case for families with much more modest assets. However, the legal principles that apply are the same in all cases. In a recent case, a man’s ex-wife sought a divorce settlement of some £29 million against his offer of £8 million. The husband had brought very substantial inherited wealth into the marriage and it was agreed that the settlement should be based on his ex-wife’s needs. The…

Eyewitness Evidence Preferred to That of Experts

When a car hits a pedestrian, it is usual for the driver of the car to be held to be at fault, but this is not always the case. When a man sprinted across a dual carriageway and was struck on the leg by a passing car, the High Court concluded that the driver was not responsible for the accident. The man who was hit made a claim against the driver, although he himself had no recollection of the incident. He claimed that the driver was negligent because she had not braked quickly enough. The only witnesses were the driver of the car that hit him and the driver of…

It’s All in the Timing

Selling the shares in a business you own and run attracts very favourable tax treatment in the UK and one of the most beneficial reliefs is Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER), which for most small businesses limits the Capital Gains Tax payable by the director-shareholders to 10 per cent as opposed to the usual rate of 18 or 28 per cent (being reduced to 10 or 20 per cent following the recent Budget). ER is a relatively easy relief to get. The main criteria for a director-shareholder of a trading company are that at the time of sale the vendor must own at least 5 per cent of the shares and voting…

Evidence Sufficient to Defeat Challenge to Will

A recent Court of Appeal case shows how important it is to carry out procedures properly in order for a person who clearly has impaired mental capacity to create a will that can withstand legal challenge. It involved a will created in 2005 by an 84-year-old woman. It divided her estate between her two sons and superseded an earlier will, executed in 2003, which gave the majority of her estate to one of them. The woman died in 2010 and the son who had stood to inherit under the earlier will challenged the legitimacy of the new will on the basis that his mother lacked ‘testamentary capacity’ when she executed…

Homeowner Defeats Planning Officer in Rates Row

In an important decision for property professionals, the High Court has ruled that, when considering the nature of a single unit of accommodation, a simple application of the ‘bricks and mortar’ test is too narrow and that the use to which rooms are actually put can legitimately be taken into account. The case concerned a listed house which had been converted into two flats and was thus treated as two units for Council Tax purposes. A couple who later bought the house converted it back into a single family home. Their transformation of the property’s internal layout was constrained by its listed status but they argued that the works they…

Children’s Voices Matter in Care Cases – But Are Not Always Decisive

The voices of children will always be heard by family judges in care proceedings, but they are not always decisive and can be outweighed by other factors. In one case, a boy’s vociferous wish to live in England with his mother was overruled by a judge who found that his best interests lay in returning to Ireland to live with his paternal family. The boy was aged nine when his parents separated. Due to the mother’s chaotic lifestyle and mental health problems, a court directed that he should be cared for in Ireland by his father and paternal grandparents. However, after the by then 13-year-old flew to England on an…

Equity Release Dangers Exposed

Financial products which offer to release capital tied up in people’s homes can be extremely complex and such arrangements should only ever be entered into after receiving specialist advice. In one case which strikingly makes this point, two elderly ladies ended up with a mountain of debt and under threat of eviction after signing a deal which they hoped would enable them to stay in their home at an affordable rent. The women had lived in the house, valued at £300,000, for almost 15 years. Their joint income was, however, modest and, in order to make ends meet, they had borrowed various sums, using the house as security. Eventually, they…

Are Your Children Your Tenants? – Sign a Lease

Parents often let their children live in properties they own on an informal basis. However, one Court of Appeal case stands as a stern warning that the absence of a tenancy agreement can make them liable for any misbehaviour by their offspring. A mother permitted her daughter to live in a property that she owned. There was no tenancy agreement and the daughter occupied the premises on a ‘bare licence’. Her neighbours complained that her dog barked incessantly and about her tendency to loudly shout abuse. They launched nuisance proceedings against both her and her mother and were awarded a total of £4,500 in damages. £1,000 of that sum was…