Fraudulent Calumny Ruling for Will Dispute
It is not uncommon for people to be unhappy with the contents of a Will, especially if they feel they have lost out on what they were expecting to receive. In such situations, people will often look for someone else to blame, especially where someone else has received more than seems fair.
If this is truly what the person making the Will (the testator) wanted, there may not be much the disappointed party can do. But as one recent court case shows, where it can be proved that the testator was improperly influenced in the way they made their Will, it can be possible to have the Will overturned.
A judge recently ruled that the defendants in an inheritance dispute had committed ‘fraudulent calumny’ and, as a result, the testator in question had been wrongly influenced in the making of their Will.
The case of Whittle v Whittle and Anor involved a claim by David Whittle against his sister Sonia Whittle and her partner, Ray Ernest Spicer. David claimed that his sister and her partner had influenced David and Sonia’s father, Gerald, to make his Will in a way that favoured Sonia and her partner.
A key aspect of David’s claim was that his sister and her partner had committed ‘fraudulent calumny’ by making false statements about him to his father.
What is fraudulent calumny?
Fraudulent calumny is not a term most people would come across in their daily life, so it bears some explanation. In essence, it refers to a situation where someone (A) has made false statements to a person (B) about a third party (C) with the intention of influencing B to change their Will in a way that benefits A over C.
For this to count as fraudulent calumny, it must be possible to show that A knew the statements they were making about C were untrue or that, at the least, they did not care whether the statements were true or false.
What is the difference between fraudulent calumny and undue influence?
Undue influence and fraudulent calumny are similar but different types of behaviour. The key difference is that fraudulent calumny involves giving false statements to convince someone making their Will to change it of their own free will, while undue influence involves coercing someone into changing their Will through more forceful persuasion.
The outcome of the case
The defendants denied fraudulent calumny. They admitted making negative comments about David, but claimed these comments were truthful and they genuinely believed in their truthfulness. The defendants admitted specific facts, including that certain documents supposedly created and sent by Gerald had, in fact, been sent by themselves.
As the case progressed, the defendants failed to provide their responses to the claim, failed to make a payment of costs ordered by the court and failed to provide disclosure and exchange statements with the claimant.
Ultimately, the defendants did not attend the final hearing nor did they have any representatives attend the hearing on their behalf. The trial proceeded on the written evidence from the claimant and oral submissions by his representative.
The judge found in favour of David Whittle i.e. that the defendants had committed fraudulent calumny. The Will made by Gerald Whittle was set aside and David Whittle was granted Letters of Administration so he could administer his father’s estate. The judge also ordered the defendants to pay the claimant’s legal costs.
Lessons to learn from this case
For people who are concerned a loved one may have been wrongly influenced to change their Will, the key takeaway is that it can be possible to make a successful challenge. Getting the right legal support will significantly boost your chances of a positive outcome.
For defendants, this case shows just how important it is to engage with the process as failing to do so can undermine your defence. If defendants are concerned that they cannot present a strong case, they should be realistic about the outcome they are likely to achieve and consider an early settlement including by means of mediation as this can save them stress, reputational damage and legal costs.
Whichever side of a dispute you are on, it is critical to speak to a specialist inheritance disputes lawyer at an early stage. They will be able to review the situation with you and advise you on your rights and options. Getting a realistic picture of your situation can help to avoid contentious court proceedings, saving everyone involved time, money and conflict.
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The information given here is intended for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice.