Court appeal by man over mother's will is dismissed

 

A man who "wasted" £275,000 given to him by his mother before her death has lost a Supreme Court appeal against her decision to bequeath most of the remainder of her estate, worth £300,000, to five charities.

The court, by a 2-1 majority, dismissed an appeal taken by the man, in his 40s, against a High Court decision which found that his late mother had not acted in breach of her moral duty in not better providing for him in her will.

In a dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Barron found in favour of the man who, in proceedings under the Succession Act, submitted he was entitled to better provision for his children from his mother's will.

Setting out the facts of the case, Mr Justice Keane said the plaintiff's father had died in 1985 and left his 56 per cent share of his company, valued at some £1.3 million, to his wife.

The plaintiff had three older sisters who were comfortably off. He had dropped out of university and worked at various jobs until 1983 when, with his father's help, he returned to college and achieved a degree.

The man had developed a major problem with drink and drugs in the mid-1980s and received treatment for alcoholism. He had not taken alcohol or drugs since 1993. He married in 1988 and had three children under 16 who lived in a house given to the plaintiff and his sister by their father, which was valued at some £120,000.

In 1987 the man's mother instructed a solicitor to draft her will. She described her son to the solicitor as "happy-go-lucky" and a "ne'er-do-well". She made it clear she wanted to treat all her children equally and to make substantial provision for them in her lifetime, and transferred all her shares in her late husband's company to them.

The plaintiff's shares realised £275,000 but he had "unhappily dissipated" this entire amount by 1992. In 1988 the plaintiff's mother made a new will leaving the bulk of the rest of her property to a number of charities. She made other minor changes to the will in March 1992 but was insistent the charities were still to be the beneficiaries.

The mother died in December 1992 and in her will gave legacies of £5,000 to her grandchildren, of which there were 10 at that time. She left only a nebuliser (a spray dispersant of the type used by asthmatics) to her son. She left the rest of her estate, worth more than £300,000, to five charities.

These were: the Simon Community; the Cancer Research Fund of St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar; the Society of St Vincent de Paul; Concern; and GOAL. Mr Justice Keane said that, in the present case, the High Court had had to resolve a reasonably straightforward issue which was whether the man's mother had breached her moral duty to him. He agreed with the High Court judge that she had not. He dismissed the appeal.

Mr Justice Lynch said he agreed with the judgment of Mr Justice Keane.

In his dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Barron said the man was "a feckless character and known to be such by his mother". When his mother died he was an unreformed alcoholic and drug addict but had reformed by August 1993. Apart from spending £25,000 on the house which he and his sister jointly owned, the man had wasted the £275,000 received from his mother.

At the time of the High Court hearing in 1995 the man was separated from his wife and the sole income available to the family was unemployment assistance.

The judge said the court must consider all relevant factors pertaining at the time of the mother's death. The plaintiff was very much in need at that time. However, the judge said, he had been well provided for by his parents and did not deserve more. The man had acknowledged that by seeking funds only to better the position of his children.

Mr Justice Barron said the phrase "proper provision" involved assistance to enable the man meet his responsibilities including those to his wife and children. It was his view that the mother was wrong not to consider her son' s responsibilities and to make proper provision for him in her will.

The judge said he would uphold the appeal on the basis that the ultimate beneficiaries would be the son's children who, he suggested, should be provided for by means of a supervised trust fund.