Have you have been disinherited due to lies that have been told about you?
Imagine the scenario: You discover that you’ve been cut out of your parent’s will for no obvious reason. Coincidentally, your brother then inherits the entire estate. How could this have happened? And is there anything you can do?
The immediate reaction of many people who find themselves in this situation is to call a solicitor to find out if the law can intervene. The most common legal options in an inheritance dispute like this is a claim under the Inheritance Act or challenging the validity of the Will on the basis of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity. But another possibility, and one that non-specialist lawyers often overlook, is whether something called fraudulent calumny has taken place.
Fraudulent calumny is an antiquated legal expression, but although it sounds complicated the principle behind it is quite straightforward. Basically fraudulent calumny occurs when a person tells lies about about someone else in order to influence the contents of a Will.
If a beneficiary makes a false representation (or series of false representations) which are designed to malign the character of another potential beneficiary in the eyes of the testator (the person who is making the will) then a legal challenge can be mounted on the basis of fraudulent calumny.
To do so, you will need to establish that it was because of the false representations that the testator decided not to leave their estate to you (or left a reduced amount) and instead left it to the person who made the misrepresentations.
For a fraudulent calumny challenge to be successfully made the following legal requirements must be satisfied:
- You were a natural beneficiary of the estate;
- There has been a poisoning of the testator’s mind;
- The perpetrator knew that the facts were incorrect (or wilfully ignored this possibility); and
- Crucially, there is no other explanation for the disinheritance to have taken place.
Fraudulent Calumny is similar to another ground for having a Will declared invalid; ‘undue influence’. But there are crucial differences. There does not need to be force or persuasion, as is the case with undue influence. Instead, fraudulent calumny requires a set of facts which can be established to be objectively untrue. The intention must be to mislead the testator, causing them to amend the terms of their Will. The difference is subtle and often overlooked, even by experienced lawyers. Undue influence is best thought of as occurring when someone is forced to amend their will against their wishes. Fraudulent calumny, by contrast, occurs when a testator is intentionally misled about the character of a potential beneficiary.
If you have been disinherited due to lies that have been told about you then you may have grounds for the Will to be declared invalid. However, it can be difficult to prove fraudulent calumny, so it is essential to speak to a specialist inheritance lawyer with direct experience of these cases.