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Going spare - advising Freddy Halstead

View profile for Amelia Edwards
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Netflix’s hottest new release The Gentlemen, directed by Guy Ritchie and containing a star-studded cast, has captured the attention of many Netflix addicts!

As a solicitor, the series had particularly gripped me with its contentious probate issues.

I could therefore simply not resist in analysing the series and the claims that could have arisen had this been a real-life matter.

The Plot

For those that don’t know the plot (spoiler alert), Halstead Estate has been in the Halstead family for 600 years. The Duke dies leaving a wife and 3 children as successors.

The family attend a Will reading carried out by the family’s solicitor. It shockingly becomes apparent that Edward (the Deceased’s second born son) inherits the ‘lion’s share’ of the Estate despite his elder brother Freddy claiming this ‘broke tradition’ as the eldest son should always inherit the title and the Estate.

Provision is also made for the wife and the Deceased’s daughter, Charlotte, but Freddy is completely excluded from the Will.

Challenge to the validity of the Will

The Duke of Halstead was an elderly man and despite the programme not confirming when the Will was drafted and executed, we would advise Freddy to investigate when this Will was made. We would initially suggest we raise a Larke v Nugus request with the Will drafter to retrieve a copy of the Will file from them, to see if the file contains evidence of whether the Deceased had capacity or whether any undue influence was exerted upon him when the Will was made. The Duke of Halstead seems erratic on his deathbed and Charlotte noted to Edward that their father is seemingly ‘in and out’ of his mind raising suspicion around his capacity.  In order to make a valid Will a person must have the requisite testamentary capacity as set out in Banks v Goodfellow (1870). The Deceased must understand the nature and effect of making a Will, comprehend the extent of the property they are disposing of and be aware of those who might have a claim to their property. In addition to retrieving a copy of the Will file we would suggest to Freddy that he obtain copies of the Deceased’s medical and GP records as they could again show signs he lacked capacity due to diagnosis or medication.

If it appears that the Deceased did have mental capacity, we would also look to pursue whether there was any claim with regards to undue influence by someone on the Deceased when making his Will. As Edward took the ‘lion’s share’ of the Estate there could be reasons to suggest that he exerted undue influence over the Deceased to obtain such a large share of the Estate.  Freddy accuses Edward of undue influence as he exclaimed ‘How did you do it Judas?’. However, the test of proving undue influence is hard to satisfy because it is usually carried out covertly. Evidence is often circumstantial and to prove undue influence in a Will, it must be shown that the testator was coerced or manipulated into making certain decisions.  The Claimant must meet this high burden to prove that undue influence was exerted.  Undue influence must be proven on the balance of probabilities (ie more likely than not) that there can be no other reasonable explanation as to why the Will was drafted in that way.  We would need more information to consider whether there was any undue influence carried out by Edward.

If Freddy is unable to prove that the Will is invalid, then not all hope is lost for him as he could look to bring an alternative claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) for reasonable financial provision to be made for him from the Deceased’s Estate. 

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

As Freddy is the son of the Deceased, he will be eligible to make a claim under the Act.  Freddy could also fall within the category of being financially maintained by the Deceased if he was living off his father’s wealth.  Freddy was left no financial provision within his father’s Will. When assessing how meritorious a claim is under the Inheritance Act the court will review the matter by reference to section 3 factors.  One factor is the size of the net Estate; given that the Estate comprised of 15,000 acres, Halstead Manor and many expensive chattels, the court would consider this as a significant factor supporting Freddy’s claim under the Act.  Further, the court would look to review the financial needs and resources of the Claimant (Freddy) and all other beneficiaries of the Estate (Edward, the Deceased’s wife and Charlotte).  Given that Freddy lived a particularly lavish lifestyle before his father’s death the court would likely acknowledge that he should be able to continue living out his life to that standard.  The court will also consider any other matter which it may consider relevant including the conduct of any applicant or any other person. Freddy states ‘I’m the eldest son, technically the title goes to me, it’s the law, it goes back to the bible Old Testament, it’s primogeniture.’ Even before the family had the Will reading Edward noted ‘the entire estate is handed down to the first-born son, Freddy is the heir I am the spare’. However, as the Solicitor noted, the Will is clear and the Duke’s title contains a “special remainder clause” to allow it to pass to the second son.

Moral of the story

If you are unsure about the validity of a Will or you question whether there is inheritance that you feel you ought to receive, speak to a specialist Solicitor in order to discuss the options available to you.

For more information regarding Contentious Probate matters, please contact a member of the Contentious Probate Team on 01562 820181, or email Amelia Edwards at