July 22, 2014

Hart brothers win inheritance battle against their sister

Two Dorset brothers have won their long-running legal battle against their sister for a share of their mother’s inheritance. Kenneth and Paul Hart of Poole have won their dispute over gifts amounting to £700k which were made to their sister Susan Burbidge, also from the town, by their late mother, Phyllis Hart.

The Court of Appeal today (Tuesday, 22 July) upheld an earlier decision by the High Court which ordered that Mrs Burbidge must return money gifted to her in three transactions by her mother in the months before she died.

Amanda Noyce, a partner and specialist from our Inheritance & Trust Disputes team, advised Kenneth and Paul Hart. Speaking on their behalf after the judgement, she said: “This has been a very difficult case and has cost all parties very dearly in terms of time, money and emotion. It is always sad when family disputes end up at trial, but my clients now have a very strong bond with each other. They want to draw a line under this now and move on with their lives.”

The Court heard how Mrs Burbidge received the proceeds from the sale of her mother’s two properties in Poole and transferred £290k from Mrs Hart’s bank account to her own, between February and October 2008. The money from the three transactions was used to buy a five-bedroom home for Mrs Burbidge and her husband Brian to live in with Mrs Hart, who moved into the house shortly before her death on 7 November 2008 at the age of 86.

The claims against Mrs Burbidge were brought by her brothers and other members of the family who were all beneficiaries of Mrs Hart’s Will. The Court ordered that Mrs Burbidge return the money to Mrs Hart’s estate so that the claimants would be put back in the position they would have been, had the three transactions not taken place and the terms of the Will been honoured.

In his judgment, Lord Justice Vos commented that any suggestion by Mr and Mrs Burbidge that the sale of Mrs Hart’s properties in return for an unsecured loan was to her benefit was misconceived. He noted that “it was only with the benefit of hindsight” that the sales of the properties were at an advantageous time given the fall in market prices and this did not take away from the fact that the terms of the “loan” were “massively disadvantageous” to Mrs Hart.

The Court of Appeal found that Mrs Hart’s solicitor had recognised that the arrangement was to Mrs Hart’s disadvantage and was keen to ensure her interests were protected. However, the Lord Justice Vos commented that the solicitor’s advice, designed to protect Mrs Hart, was the reason he was “cut out of the loop by the dishonesty of Mrs Burbidge”.

Lord Justice Vos concluded his judgment stating that the High Court was “entirely justified” to find that Mrs Hart had been subject to undue influence and dismissed the appeals of Mr and Mrs Burbidge.

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