Widow leaves china and cutlery to daughters and €3.8m estate to sons

Son who received land worth €100,000 successfully challenges division of assets in will

The eldest son had worked on the family farm for three decades and in 2007 his mother told him he was ‘going to have to find something else to do with his life’.

The eldest son had worked on the family farm for three decades and in 2007 his mother told him he was ‘going to have to find something else to do with his life’.

 

A mother bequeathed china, delph and cutlery to her three daughters along with €5,000 each – and the remaining €3.8 million of assets in her estate to her three sons. And one son, who was given a fraction of the assets, has successfully challenged his mother’s will.

In a High Court judgment published on Wednesday, Mr Justice Denis McDonald found in favour of the eldest son, a 53-year-old married father-of-two.

In the will, the eldest son, who now works as a hackney driver after being forced out of the family farm business in 2007, received only a 3½-acre strip of land valued at €42,000 in 2013 when his mother died, now valued at €100,000.

The man’s brother and executor of the estate and personal representative of the mother received gifts from the estate to the value of €3 million in 2013 – with the 199 acres (80.5 hectares) of land bequeathed to him valued at €3.55 million today.

After a bitterly-fought six-day hearing in private, the judge directed that the eldest son should receive about 90 acres of lands, to the value of around €1.27 million.

These were lands promised by the mother to her eldest son in 1997 before their falling out and before she revoked her original will.

At the end of a 30,000-word judgment in ‘K v K’, the judge found the mother in the family “did fail in her moral duty to make proper provision for the plaintiff in her last will”.

High onus

He said the eldest son had satisfied the high onus that rests on him to demonstrate that there was a failure of moral duty on his mother’s part.

The mother had an extensive estate and that her son “had obvious needs”, he said.

The judge said the mother “does not appear to have considered that she should make any significant provision for her daughters in her will”. He noted none of the daughters had made a claim under Section 117 of the Succession Act and “furthermore, neither of the daughters who gave evidence before me suggested that they were living in straitened circumstances”.

In his judgment, Mr Justice McDonald said that “the animus between the parties was palpable during the hearing”.

He said it became clear that none of the members of the family were on speaking terms with the plaintiff, the eldest son, save for his sister ‘M’, stating that even in the witness box, it was clear from her demeanour, to some extent at least, she shared the animus against the eldest son.

The judge said that the disparity between what the eldest son received and what his brother received from the estate “is extreme”.

The oldest brother had worked on the farm since he was 15 and Mr Justice McDonald stated that because of the son’s lack of experience of work other than the family farm “a just and prudent parent would, in my opinion, have made more significant provision for him”.

‘Disproportionately small’

The judge found that the gift to him under the will “was disproportionately small” when compared with the gifts to the defendant and a third son, ‘J’ who received gifts to the value of €748,547.

The father in the family had died in 1996 with all assets transferring to his wife.

In a will made in 1997, the mother left a substantial part of the farm to the plaintiff, her oldest son.

However, in 2003, she made a new will in which what she proposed to give to the eldest son was very substantially reduced.

The judge also found that the plaintiff’s contribution to the farm in the period up to his father’s death was significantly more extensive than that of his brothers.

In his judgment, he said he believed the mother’s “dramatic change of heart” seemed likely to have been caused by the mother’s unhappiness at the involvement at the eldest son’s in-laws in a property dispute against her.

The eldest son had worked on the family farm for three decades and he said his mother came to his home in 2007 and said things were not working out between himself and his brother (the defendant) to such an extent that he was “going to have to find something else to do with his life”. He was paid up until Christmas 2007 and then dismissed. The eldest son said that he often did not receive a wage for his work as his father often told him: “You’re doing it for yourself, sure I can’t take it with me.”