Wealthy Businessman’s Prolific Will Writing Triggers Inheritance Dispute

Prolific will writing is very often symptomatic of a complicated life. That was certainly so in the case of a wealthy businessman who wrote four wills, benefiting different members of his family. Abigail Sunter takes a closer look.

The man had a large portfolio of properties in the UK and India. At various stages of his life, he regarded himself as married to two different women. The question of whom he was in fact married to, and when, currently remained unresolved and was to be the subject of other court proceedings.

The first of his wills was executed in 1979 and the last in the year he died. The latter document dealt only with his assets in India and included the following statement that was critical to the outcome of the case: ‘This is my last and final will and all such previous documents stand cancelled.’

Following a nine-day hearing, a judge found that the statement served to revoke all his previous wills, including his penultimate will – dated 2007 – which dealt with both his UK and Indian assets. As the final will dealt exclusively with property in India, it could not be admitted to probate in the UK.

The consequence of the judge’s ruling was that he died intestate – without making a valid will – in respect of his very substantial property in this country. The principal beneficiary of the 2007 will, one of the women to whom he regarded himself as married, challenged that outcome.

In upholding her appeal, the High Court ruled that the 2007 will remained valid and coexisted with the final will. The latter document was entirely Indian in that it was drafted on the subcontinent by an Indian lawyer and dealt solely with the man’s property in India. The statement, the Court found, was effective to revoke the 2007 will only insofar as it dealt with his Indian assets. His English property, therefore, stood to be distributed in accordance with the 2007 will.

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