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Wrangle v Brunt [2020] EWHC 1784 (Ch)

A probate claim before Master Teverson.

This was a probate claim before Master Teverson. The deceased (T) had died in 2007 age 35. The Claimant (C) was his uncle. The first defendant (D1) was T's mother. The second defendant (D2) was T's brother. C and D1 were in their 80s. The hearing was conducted remotely.

D1 chose to hide the fact that T had made a will and applied for and was granted letters of administration to T's estate on the basis that T had died intestate. Letters of administration were granted to D1 on 25 July 2008.

In 2018 C became aware of the existence what were said to be T's will and sought an order revoking the grant of letters of administration to D1on the grounds that T did not die intestate. D1 and D2 alleged that the duplicate wills were forged. They claimed that the documents were not executed in 1999 but were created several years after T death. The D1&2 sought the dismissal of the probate claim on the grounds that the purported wills are invalid on grounds of (a) a forgery (b) want of due execution and (c) want of knowledge and approval.

The judge decided:

(a) although the legal burden of proving forgery was on the D1&2, the evidential burden was on C [71]. Ali Haider v Syed [2014] WTLR 390; Supple v Pender [2007] WTLR 1461: considered.

(b) Neither the contents nor expert handwriting evidence led to the conclusion of forgery [89]

(c) Having considered witness evidence which suggested that T had talked about a will and its contents the evidence of those in attendance when the disputed will was made came to be considered: Pittas v Christou [2014] EWHC 79 (Ch) at paragraph 13; Supple v Pender [2007] WTLR 1461 applied. [104]

(d) No weight should be given to the attestation clause which incorrectly stated the basis of the signature being applied (acting under an Enduring Power of Attorney) [145]

(e) The requirements of s9 Wills Act 1837 (as amended) were nevertheless complied with as T authorised someone to sign on his behalf, in his presence, signifying his consent to the signature being applied. Barrett v Bem and others [2012] EWCA Civ 52; [2012] Ch 573 applied. [146-153]

(f) D1 chose to suppress the copy of the will she was given and not tell other members of the family that she was administrating the estate on the basis of  T being intestate. [125-127]

(g) the letters of administration should be revoked and in exercise of its powers under s50 Administration of Justice Act 1950 D1 should be removed as the personal representative and a solicitor appointed to act in her place. [154-155]

Summary by Nicholas O'Brien, barrister Coram Chambers
Read the full judgment of Wrangle v Brunt [2020] EWHC 1784 (Ch) on BAILII