Setting aside lifetime gifts – Hart v Hart (and others) EWHC 1628 (Ch)

26 July, 2013
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

This is an interesting estate dispute case involving life time gifts. The facts are as follows.

A mother had transferred money to her daughter and son-in-law to enable them to buy a property. However, the mother’s Will left gifts to her two sons and they, as Claimants, challenged the gifts stating that undue influence caused their mother to make those transfers.

Whilst the court found no evidence that the daughter had poisoned her mother’s affections or that the mother had been coerced by her daughter to the extent that there was actual undue influence, it found that the size and extent of the transfers required an explanation, particularly when coupled with the fact that the transactions took place when the daughter was in a position of trust and confidence in respect of her mother’s financial affairs.

As a result, the burden of proof shifted to the daughter to rebut the presumption of undue influence.

In reaching its decision, the court noted that no independent advice was given at the time the transfers were made and there was no explanation from the daughter as to why the mother’s name was not on the title of the new property

The court were therefore of the view that there was a real question over whether the mother really understood the letters that were sent out with her signature and the impact of the transfers. It was also not clear whether the mother intended by her actions to deprive her sons of the legacies given to them by her Will.

The court was unwilling to give the daughter the benefit of the doubt and made a finding of presumed undue influence, which had the effect of setting aside the gifts.

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