A retired window cleaner who inherited £280,000 from an elderly customer has been jailed for 12 months following his failure to return the funds to the estate after her Will was declared invalid.
Cecil Bray originally stood to inherit his aunt’s estate, having been at her “beck and call” since 1996. Bray (himself a pensioner) gave up work to ensure that he was able to provide his aunt with “round the clock care”, which in itself was a full time job.
In 2003 Mr Bray's aunt, Mrs Spalding, who died in 2008, aged 98, executed a Will bequeathing the majority of her estate (including her home), to Mr Bray.
In 2005 Mrs Spalding underwent a major personality change following a series of falls. She 'excommunicated' Mr Bray from her life and formed a close bond with Albert Pearce, her window cleaner. Mrs Spalding then went on to execute a further three Wills, all of which were in favour of Pearce.
The final Will was executed the year before she died. Mr Pearce insisted that he was not interested in Mrs Spalding’s money and he had in fact provided her with a high level of care in her final years.
However in 2014 the Court found that Mrs Spalding had “expressly agreed” to leave her home to Mr Bray and that she should be held to that promise in light of the fact that her nephew had relied on her promise and had provided her with such a high level of care. The Court found that Mrs Spalding lacked testamentary capacity at the point she executed her final three Wills and instead found in favour of the 2003 Will.
Mr Bray therefore inherited all but £14,000 from his aunt’s estate. This meant that Mr Pearce was required to repay everything he had received from the estate.
When Mr Pearce failed to return the money, he was made bankrupt and a trustee in bankruptcy was instructed to find out what happened to the money from the estate.
It was suggested that Pearce had tried to hide the money through a series of transactions involving various family members. Pearce suggested he had lost the money when his car was taken away by bailiffs, and which had contained the money from the estate in cash.
Nicholas Simmonds, the bankruptcy trustee said that this was, “one of the worst cases I have seen of a bankrupt’s failure to cooperate and to have actively taken steps to conceal property.”
At the High Court Pearce was committed to Pentonville Prison. The judge was quoted as saying, “this is an extremely serious case of contempt of court covering a wide range of reprehensible conduct."
This case does however provide a useful precedent for those looking to contest the validity of a Will on the grounds of testamentary capacity. Traditionally it can be difficult to find sufficient evidence to establish a lack of testamentary capacity to the Court’s satisfaction. This decision shows that Courts are more willing than ever to thoroughly test a person’s capacity in order to determine the validity of a Will.