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Beneficiaries of Farm Permitted to Sell Land Despite Will Dispute

Flicking through the news lately we came across an interesting story regarding a disputed will; as detailed on the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) website, a woman who became friends with an elderly farmer has been named as the sole beneficiary of this estate – replacing the claim of his three adult children.

The farmer in question, Arnold Seals, committed suicide in 2013 after suffering from severe depression since the death of his wife in 2010. After entering into a close friendship with the woman in question – Florence Williams – he updated his will in 2011, leaving her his entire estate as well as his 50% share in the Seals family farm. Along with the new will were a number of letters drafted by his solicitors, explaining that he had disinherited his children after losing contact with them after the death of his wife.

Seals' three children made Williams aware that they wished to make a claim on the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and requested she put her wish to sell the farm on the back-burner until the claim was resolved. Williams continued with the claim, leading the children to apply to the Land Registry to record a caution against first registration of the farm and also challenge the validity of the will on the grounds that their father had a lack of capacity and was under undue influence.

Williams, along with the other owners of the farm (other members of the Seals family) wished to sell the land at auction.

Mr Justice Richards of the High Court noted that some of the claims made by the Seals may succeed; in which case he would need to determine how each party would be affected by the cancellation of the Land Registry caution, and whether "either or both parties would be adequately compensated by an award of damages."

The decision to cancel the caution has since been made. Do you think this was the right decision? More details on the case can be found on the STEP website.