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Shuck v Loveridge, Re Lamb (deceased)

[2005] EWHC 72 Chancery Division

Court: High Court
Date of Judgment: 31.01.05
Ruth Jordan

The claimant executrix (S) sought to prove the 1996 will of the deceased (X) with two codicils from 1998 and 1999. The defendant minor (L) asked the court to pronounce for the force and validity of a codicil executed eight days prior to X's death in 2000. The 2000 codicil had allegedly been dictated by X to L's mother during his final stay in hospital and she had organised the attendance of witnesses the following day. By the 1996 will and the 1998 and 1999 codicils, X had made bequests to some 14 people, with the balance of the estate to go to L. By the 2000 codicil X purported to leave his entire estate to L, with the exception of one bequest, thereby revoking the gifts made by the previous testamentary dispositions. S submitted that X lacked knowledge and approval of the contents of the 2000 codicil and that the circumstances in which the codicil came to be executed were sufficient to excite the suspicion of the court, thereby shifting the evidential burden to L.

Held, giving judgment for L, that the suspicion of the court was excited because L was the beneficiary under the 2000 codicil and her mother had written the document and organised the attendance of the witnesses. Accordingly, the burden fell on L to dispel the suspicion that the will was not the product of X's free will, Barry v Butlin (1838) 2 Moo. P.C. 480 applied. However, in the absence of an allegation of undue influence, the court would not presume such undue influence. L's mother was not a dishonest witness. X had dictated the words of the 2000 codicil. X knew exactly the extent of his estate and executed the codicil of his own free will and without pressure. There were a number of factors that explained X's change of mind, including the facts that X was clearly estranged from his blood relations, that he had an extremely close relationship with L, that he had turned against S's family by the time of his final admission to hospital, and that he had a strong personality. The 2000 codicil represented X's free and informed decision and genuine wishes.


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