Shane Phelan and Gordon Deegan
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Sisters get china tea set in will as brothers share €3.8m estateIndependent.ieThree sisters were left china, delph and cutlery along with €5,000 each in their mother’s will – while the remaining €3.8m of assets in her estate was shared by her three sons.https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/sisters-get-china-tea-set-in-will-as-brothers-share-3-8m-estate-37509106.htmlhttps://www.independent.ie/business/irish/article37111524.ece/793f1/AUTOCROP/h342/2018-06-23_bus_41969990_I1.JPG
Three sisters were left china, delph and cutlery along with €5,000 each in their mother’s will – while the remaining €3.8m of assets in her estate was shared by her three sons.
But now the eldest son has successfully challenged the will in the High Court after getting only a fraction of the €3.8m estate.
The decision means the man will now inherit farmland valued at €1.27m rather than a small parcel of land valued at just €100,000.
The judgment arises out of a bitter and costly court battle which heard the man was no longer on speaking terms with all bar one of his five siblings.
The fractious dispute involved claims of assault and verbal abuse, with the judge observing the animus between the parties was “palpable” during a six-day hearing.
The eldest son, who now works independently after being forced out of the family farm business in 2007, received only a 3.5-acre strip of land valued at €42,000 in 2013.
But the man’s brother received gifts from the estate to the value of €3m in 2013 – with the 199 acres of land valued at €3.55m today.
At the end of a 30,000-word judgment, Mr Justice McDonald found the mother “did fail in her moral duty to make proper provision for the plaintiff in her last will”.
The judge said that the eldest son has satisfied the high onus that rests on him to demonstrate that there was a failure of moral duty on his mother’s part.
Mr Justice McDonald said that the mother had an extensive estate and that her son “had obvious needs”.
The plaintiff and three sisters were largely ignored in their mother’s will, with the vast bulk of her €3.8m estate being left to two other sons.
The High Court heard the 53-year-old father of two was working independently, earning around €46,000 a year, having been forced out of the family farm and sand and gravel business over a decade ago.
All the sisters were left with was the mother’s china, delph and cutlery and €5,000 each.
The judge said that the mother “does not appear to have considered she should make any significant provision for her daughters in her will”.
But the man was the only one of the children to challenge the will, suing one of his younger brothers, who was the executor and largest beneficiary of the estate.
The judge said that it is notable that none of the daughters has 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”.
However, the plaintiff successfully argued he had been promised the 90 acres by his mother in 1997 and this was reflected by a will she made that year. Unbeknownst to him this promise was rescinded in a subsequent will in 2011.
In a 60-page judgment, Mr Justice Denis McDonald ruled the 1997 promise was a “testamentary contract” that the man was entitled to have enforced.
He also found the mother failed in her moral duty to make proper provision for him in her final will. Neither the man nor members of his family can be identified for legal reasons.
The court heard he left school at the age 15 and at one point worked 70 hours a week in the family businesses.
He testified that it was the intention of both his father and uncle that the farmland, comprising almost 200 acres, be left in equal shares to him and his two brother.
However, the property was left to his mother when his father died in 1996.
The court heard that the following year she promised him he would receive a 90-acre section of the farm when she died.
But a number of rows occurred within the family in subsequent years.
These included a land dispute between the mother and another relative in 2001 which ended up in court.
The mother was said to have been “furious” when her eldest son’s father-in-law gave evidence on behalf of the relative.
There were also disputed allegations the eldest son verbally abused her after she sold some property without consulting him. Then, in July 2007, there was a major altercation, the details of which are also disputed, between the eldest son and a brother, which resulted in a complaint to local gardaí.
The eldest son alleged he was assaulted and thrown to the ground with a knee thrust in his face. The following month his mother informed him she wanted him to leave the family businesses.
Mr Justice McDonald said there was an “extreme” disparity between what she had left her eldest son and what had been left to his brothers.
The judge said she failed in her moral duty to make proper provision for him.
“She had an extensive estate. The plaintiff had obvious needs. He had been left in a difficult position following his expulsion from the family business in 2007,” he said.
He said after leaving school at such an early stage and his lack of experience for anything other than work on the family farm and business, “a just and prudent parent would, in my opinion, have made more significant provision for him”.