Will challenge / undue influence – Wharton v Bancroft [2011] EWHC (Ch) 3250

8 March, 2012
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

In this case the high court have upheld the validity of a deathbed Will made by 78 year old George Wharton which benefited his life partner and recent wife, Maureen, solely. 

George Wharton was a Kent businessman and at his death in September 2008 his estate was valued at around £4m.
 
George Wharton’s daughters challenged the validity of his Will on the basis of undue influence which they argued had been exerted by Maureen. 
 
George Wharton suffered from terminal cancer and when he knew he had only days to live he returned home to deal with his affairs. 
 
He had been co-habiting with Maureen for over 30 years when he returned from hospital with only days to live.  They married at home the same night that he returned from hospital. 
 
Just before the wedding ceremony he executed his Will.  It was a handwritten Will prepared by Mr Wharton’s solicitor.  It was read to him aloud and signed and witnessed by the solicitor and his wife.  It was made in contemplation of his marriage to Maureen. 
 
Three days later George Wharton died.
 
The Will was challenged by the daughters on the ground of undue influence.  Mr Justice Norris said that it was clearly a deathbed marriage and Will and whilst a large estate leaving nothing
to his children could cause tension between the family, there was no evidence Mr Wharton was coerced in making a Will benefiting the lady who he treated as his wife for over 30 years.  
 
He also noted the IHT advantage of the marriage of which Mr Wharton was aware.  It would have caused Maureen difficulties in respect of the business they had built up if tax had been
payable. 
 
The judge upheld the deathbed Will.