Allegations of Will fraud are becoming increasingly common. A recent case, Christodoulides v Marcou (2017), has highlighted a rarely used ground upon which the validity of a Will can be challenged; that is Fraudulent Calumny.
This is a particular type of fraudulent behaviour, which can be argued where it is alleged that one party has told a Testator or Testatrix lies (whether knowing them to be false or not caring whether they were true or false), which poisoned their mind and led to a Will being made which otherwise wouldn’t have been made.
In this case, the dispute was between two Sisters (Mrs Niki Christodoulides and Mrs Androulla Marcou), in relation to their late Mother’s Estate. The Deceased had made a Will on 7 August 2012, only a few days before her death on 9 August 2012.
The terms of the Will appointed Niki to be the Executrix of the Estate and left the entirety of the Residuary Estate to her. A provision was included stating that no provision had been made for Androulla.
Whilst there were a number of elements involved in the background to the matter, the main point that was argued regarding Will fraud and fraudulent calumny related to a Bank Account held in joint names.
Niki took care of and controlled her Mother’s resources. The Bank Accounts were put into the joint names of the Mother and Niki, purportedly for “administrative convenience”. Whilst the bank mandates indicated that the Bank Accounts were held in joint ownership, meaning that the monies would transfer by survivorship on the first death, Niki stated that ownership had always remained with her Mother.
It was accepted by all involved that the Mother’s intention was always to ensure a roughly equal distribution of her Estate between her two Daughters.
However, in or around March 2012, the sum of around €500,000 was transferred by the Mother into the joint names of herself and Androulla. This greatly angered Niki (perhaps due to the loss of control or concerns about losing out) and despite her being added as a joint holder only a few days later, that anger never appears to have dissipated.
The Court held that, subsequently, Niki proceeded to poison her Mother’s mind by representations made by words and actions indicating that Androulla had stolen her Mother’s money. This was, in part, evidenced by the instructions given to the Willwriter who prepared the Will shortly before her death, which recorded that by excluding Androulla from benefiting under the terms of the Will, she “would allow a more even distribution of her assets to both daughters as Androulla had helped herself to a substantial amount of assets already and that Niki had not”.
Following the giving in evidence in Court, the Judge described Niki as a “thoroughly dishonest and manipulative individual to whom integrity and truth are less important than achieving what she wants”.
Accordingly, the Will was declared invalid and the Estate is now to be divided equally between the two Daughters.
If you are involved in or dealing with an Estate where there is a disputed Will, particularly if Will fraud or fraudulent calumny may be relevant, then please contact our Contentious Probate Team on 0808 139 1606. We handle a variety of disputes and issues surrounding Estates, including challenges to the validity of a Will and Inheritance Act Claims.