An inheritance to kill for?

    An inheritance to kill for?

    Whilst the volume of Contentious Probate disputes continues to rise exponentially, thankfully most discontented individuals seek remedy and recompense through legal channels, as opposed to violence or murder.

    Richard Martin, however, was recently convicted and sentenced to eighteen years for killing his brother in a violent culmination to an intense inheritance dispute.

    Richard and his brother, John, had lived harmoniously with their parents, William and Jean, since 1971. However, following the death of their mother, the relationship between Richard and his father soured, resulting in Richard leaving the family home.

    His father, William, later executed a Will bequeathing his entire Estate, including the property worth over £500,000, to John alone.

    After William died in 2015, Richard was furious when the terms of the Will were revealed, believing that his brother had poisoned his father’s mind against him.

    However, rather than following the matter through legal channels, such as pursuing a challenge against the validity of the Will on the grounds of Undue Influence and/or Fraudulent Calumny, Richard decided to take matters into his own hands and set out to take back what he believed to be his rightful inheritance.

    On the evening of 9 June 2018, Richard bludgeoned his brother to death with a metal bar and hid his body in the shed of their childhood home. He then proceeded to move into the property and treated it as his own, until suspicions were aroused and he was arrested.

    Suspicions of undue influence

    In a significant number of the enquiries we receive, there are suspicions that a loved one has been influenced or pressured into changing their Will.

    Such influence can be exerted by any individual in the Deceased’s life, from a family member (as Richard Martin believed), or someone else such as a carer, close friend or anyone in a position of trust.

    Pernicious influence can arise from a range of factors including physical force, coercion, mental manipulation, emotional bullying and, often, systemic isolation of the Deceased from their family and other individuals who genuinely cared for them.

    The burden of proving that influence was exerted on the Deceased to such an extent that it affected their testamentary disposition lies with the person challenging the Will.

    Schrader v Schrader 2013

    The leading modern case scrutinising the ground of undue influence is Schrader v Schrader 2013.

    Within the judgement of the same, the Court noted that:

    “It will be a common feature of a large number of undue influence cases that there is no direct evidence of the application of influence.

    It is of the nature of undue influence that it goes on when no-one is looking. That does not stop its being proved.

    The proof has to come, if at all, from more circumstantial evidence.”

    In Schrader v Schrader, the Will was successfully challenged and the position reverted to an earlier Will. The Court, whilst deliberating, drew on multiple factors which, together, painted a picture of a categorical overtaking of the Deceased’s independent volition.

    Evidence of supporting factors when advancing a claim of undue influence include, but are not limited to:

    • The Deceased’s dependency, either physical or mental, upon a particular individual;
    • The sudden inclusion or increase in inheritance of a particular beneficiary;
    • A notable change in testamentary dispositions as compared to previous Wills or promises made;
    • The conduct of an individual who suddenly stands to benefit exponentially from a Will; and
    • Concerns raised by individuals in the Deceased’s life, particularly by any medical or legal experts.

    There is clear, legal precedent to challenge a Will, should it be suspected that it came about due to undue influence by another. There is certainly no need to commit murder!

    We can help you

    If you have any concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding the creation of a loved one’s Will and wish to challenge it, or you are administering an Estate and are facing a validity challenge, then please contact our Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates Team on 01823 625841.

    We handle a variety of disputes and issues surrounding Wills and Estates. We offer high-quality, cost-effective legal advice on such matters, with flexible funding arrangements such as Conditional Fee Agreements (i.e. No-Win, No-Fee arrangements) being available.


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