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Reeves -v- Drew & Others was a bitter legal battle that serves as a stark warning of what not to do when making a will.

The 71-year-old wealthy property tycoon from humble beginnings, Kevin Reeves, died in February 2019, leaving behind an estate that was valued at a staggering £100million.

Daughter Louise Reeves, being the claimant in this case, sought to uphold the last will that her father made in 2014, which left 80% of his fortune to her and 20% to her half-sister, Lisa Murray. Her brother, Bill Reeves, was left with just £20,000 worth of personal effects.

However, his previous will, made in 2012, had split 80% of his estate equally between Louise, Lisa, and Bill. The remaining 20% was to be shared between his grandchildren, Ryan and Ria.

A grant of probate was refused for the 2014 will following a challenge by some of his family members, including Bill. Understandably, many of the family members (except Louise, who was set to inherit 80%) took objection to the newer will and believed there had been an error. One particularly eyebrow-raising fact surrounding the newer will was that the multimillionaire testator had spent only £140+VAT on professional fees to have his new will drafted.

It was discovered that Louise Reeves had close contact with the solicitor who drafted the 2014 will in the months before it was signed. That solicitor was also unable to explain his methodology and process in full. He described how Kevin Reeves had negotiated a low fee for writing the will and had consequently received a less thorough service.

Bill Reeves claimed that Louise Reeves had bullied their father to change his will and leave him with almost nothing.

Ruling on the will

The failure to demonstrate that the deceased had been fully aware of the impact of his new will upon signing in 2014, along with the suggestion that he had been unduly influenced into signing it by his “ruthless and materialistic” daughter, convinced the Court to uphold the earlier 2012 will.

Louise could not prove that her father had the requisite knowledge and approval of the 2014 will, which was found to be invalid. Justice Green rejected the claim of undue influence but concluded that he was “not satisfied that Louse has established that the deceased did so radically change his mind about Bill, Ryan and Ria, so as to lead him to cut them out of his will.”

It was noted that Kevin Reeves had suffered from reduced reading ability in his older age; although, the judge did consider that even if he could not read the will, he most likely would have had it read to him by someone else.

However, the more substantial evidence was the lack of explanation for the significant changes from the 2012 will. In order for the 2014 will to be upheld, the Court needed to be satisfied that the newer will truly represented Mr Reeves’ testamentary intentions.

The result for Bill Reeves was a far cry from the £20,000 worth of personal effects he was due to inherit under the contested will, with the siblings having been awarded £27 million each, and the rest going to their half-sister Lisa and other family members.

Last week, the judge ordered costs against Louise which has meant that she must pick up most of the siblings’ legal bills. Her own legal costs amounted to circa £1 million and she was ordered to pay 70% of Bill’s legal costs too, which are likely to be of a similar, if not larger, sum.

Will disputes and contentious probate

This case is yet another example of a very bitter and public family feud involving substantial sums of money which are increasingly on the rise with expert legal involvement being key in such matters.

There are a few key learnings from this case that anyone looking to challenge or defend a will should be aware of.

Disputing a will’s validity requires one or more of the following:

  • The will was not correctly executed in accordance with the Wills Act 1837;
  • The deceased lacked testamentary capacity;
  • There are issues over forgery or fraud concerning the will;
  • There are issues over lack of knowledge and approval – the deceased did not understand the extent of their estate, or the effect of making a will; or
  • The deceased was unduly influenced or pressurised into making their will.

In this case, there was a distinct lack of evidence from the opposing side trying to have the 2014 will upheld. Even though the solicitor who drafted the 2014 will was present in court to give evidence (which ordinarily would give more credence to a will’s validity), the Judge described him as ‘a most unsatisfactory witness whose evidence cannot be tested by reference to his own attendance notes because those attendance notes are themselves under challenge’. The solicitor had provided what the Judge referred to as a “Primark service”.

Beware of low-cost wills

This case demonstrates the importance of having a carefully drafted will with the help of a professional with an eye for detail to leave no stone unturned. A will that is drafted at the lowest possible cost may not necessarily be the best option and, as this case highlights, could cause major problems in the event that it is sought to be contested.

The practitioners in our Wills, Probate, Tax & Trusts team always provide a first-class service, ensuring that the wills they write and amend are truly representative of their clients’ wishes and taking all factors into account. To speak to the team about the preparation of a will, please contact us on 01332 226 162 or email jane.shepherd@flintbishop.co.uk.

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