Inheritance claims: why parties should not delay in making their claim

Naomi Ireson highlights the dangers of delay when making an inheritance claim and the need to act quickly to avoid the estate being distributed or dissipated

A window cleaner who inherited £300,000 from an elderly customer recently appeared before the High Court.

Albert Pearce (aged 83) had inherited the fortune after befriending the deceased, Julie Spalding (aged 98). But the court ordered him to hand the inheritance back to the deceased’s family.

An inheritance claim was ibrought by the deceased’s nephew, Cecil Bray. In 1996 Mr Bray had given up work to live with and care for his aunt. In return, she promised he would inherit her estate upon her death. However, in 2005 after what was described as a “series of major personality changes” the deceased asked Mr Bray to leave her property and essentially cut him out of her life.

Albert Pearce, her friendly window cleaner, subsequently appeared on the scene. He befriended Julie Spalding and helped to care for her. In 2008 the deceased died. Her Will left her estate, worth almost £300,000, to Mr Pearce.

In 2014 Mr Bray, the aggrieved nephew, pursued a claim for the estate to be paid to him instead of Mr Pearce. The Court did not agree that Mr Pearce had 'unduly influenced' the deceased but it held that Mr Bray was entitled to rely on the promise of inheritance from his aunt. The Judge therefore ordered Mr Pearce to return the estate assets to Mr Bray.

Given the time which had passed (2008-2014), Mr Pearce claimed that he had exhausted all of the assets in the estate and had been declared bankrupt. He said he had spent all of the inheritance on gambling and travelling and was therefore unable to return the money to Mr Bray. However, it was alleged that his story was not true and that Mr Pearce had in fact squirreled the money into various bank accounts in an attempt to conceal his fortune and in order to be declared bankrupt.

The case has been adjourned until October and we will provide an update then, but in the meantime the clear moral of this story is that anyone contemplating an inheritance claim should not delay in taking legal action. If there is a concern that a defendant is about to distribute or dissipate an estate it is vital to act quickly and take specialist legal advice. We are left wondering in this case whether if Mr Bray had acted more promptly after his aunt’s death steps could have been taken to ensure that Mr Pearce was prevented from spending or dissipating the estate assets.

If you are considering an inheritance claim and are concerned that the estate assets are in danger of being dissipated then call our FREE HELPLINE on 0808 139 1599 or email us at info@inheritancedisputes.co.uk