A sobering thought when revising your will: successful challenge to Will drafted and signed at the bar!
We are often told of the importance of renewing our wills as life passes by - depending on any changes of circumstance and new relationships that we forge along the way.
If a person wishes to leave their Estate, property or general gifts to particular people, Charities or other organisations, a carefully drafted will should be prepared by legal professionals and swiftly checked and executed to ensure that when that person leaves this world, their wishes can be carried out. Over time, a will should be reviewed and if appropriate, updated -with professional legal advice.
A will is a powerful legal document and – although in theory it could be handwritten on the back of an envelope but still deemed valid and enforceable, there are strict legal rules and requirements that must be complied with to ensure that the Testator's intention- that of the person making the will –can be followed.
On 11 June 2019 at the Central London County Court, the Judge ruled that a Will was NOT valid where it was written out at a Wetherspoon's bar and signed over at least one pint of beer!
There, it was found that Gary Mendez, who weighed 25 stone, had befriended Dean Hughes, a local taxi driver. Mr Hughes had been the only such driver willing to ferry Mr Mendez over the around the local pubs in Eastbourne, Hastings and Hailsham due to his large size and weight. The other taxi drivers did not want him in their cars.
In early 2016, Mr Mendez had discussed a possible new Will with Mr Hughes and then drafted this with him over the telephone- leaving his entire Estate to Mr Hughes in return for the friendship that the men had shared over the previous few years. The Estate included a house in Eastbourne where Mr Mendez resided with his long-term civil partner, Hermes Rodrigues.
Shortly after that discussion, Mr Hughes subsequently drove Mr Mendez to the George Hotel in Hailsham one morning in February 2016 for the Will to be signed in front of independent witnesses.
The new Will totally excluded Mr Rodrigues.
Mr Mendez had met Mr Rodrigues in 2003 when he was in a cruise and Mr Rodrigues later gave up his job and moved halfway around the world to be with Mr Mendez, caring for him and looking after him as his health deteriorated. Mr Rodrigues had provided unstinting care for Mr Mendez as he had become forgetful, irritable and confused over the years
Only in 2013, three years before his death, Mr Mendez had made a Will, leaving everything he had - including his house - to Mr Rodrigues. In stark contrast, the 2016 will did not make any provision for Mr Rodrigues at all.
Sadly, Mr Mendez died only 3 months after the 2016 will was prepared. Mr Hughes informed Mr Rodrigues of the revised Will just 2 days after his Partner's death.
Mr Rodrigues brought a claim to challenge the 2016 Will on the basis that Mr Mendez was so badly affected by his health and by alcohol that he did not fully understand what he was doing.
At Court in defence of the claim, Mr Hughes initially said no alcohol was consumed before the 2016 Will was signed. He subsequently conceded however that a pint of bitter had been bought for Mr Mendez. The Judge said that 'He had ultimately to accept that alcohol had been purchased, and was on the table, before the 2016 Will was signed,' Mr Mendez was a heavy drinker and the evidence showed it was 'likely' that he had drunk alcohol earlier that day, the Judge continued.
He rejected the claim that the pub Will was forged or was signed under the 'undue influence' of the taxi driver but he said Mr Mendez's mental state was so affected by the ravages of drink and his health conditions that it could not stand. He was 'no longer able to comprehend' the effect of what he was doing, he said.
'In my judgment, Gary, by this time, no longer had a balanced view of the claims to which he ought to give effect, and in particular had lost sight of his previous promise to leave the house to Hermes,' he ruled.
To reflect that substantial contribution that Mr Rodrigues gave to Mr Mendez over a large period of his lifetime, the Judge ordered that the house was transferred to Mr Rodrigues and that Mr Hughes would pay 85% of the legal costs of the case.
The decision will come as a sober reminder of the importance of obtaining proper legal advice when drafting a new will or amending an old one. Careful thought must be given to those intended to benefit under the terms but also to those entitled and justified in bringing a claim against the Estate as a Dependant of the Deceased, should they be excluded from the last will of the deceased.