Four charities win £1.8m legacy case in High Court

Marie Curie Cancer Care, the RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss and the Institute of Cancer Research had been challenged over their claims to a will

High Court
High Court

The four charities that were locked in a legal dispute over a £1.8m inheritance with the son of the will-maker's best friend have won their case.

Marie Curie Cancer Care, the RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss and the Institute of Cancer Research issued a joint statement after the hearing to announce the verdict, saying they were grateful for the bequest from Dorothy Whelen, who died in 2012, which the court ruled they could keep.

The charities won the case against Alan Turner, the son of Hazel Turner, a lifelong friend of Whelen, who is now 95 and has Alzheimer's. Whelen left her estate, worth about £1.8m, to the charities in a will drawn up in 1982, but Turner had claimed that a subsequent will, made in 1999, bequeathed the entire estate to his mother and his two brothers, Philip and Glen Turner.

It was also claimed that Whelen’s work colleagues witnessed Whelen signing the 1999 will, despite the two colleagues having said they had no memory of seeing Whelen, or of witnessing her will.

Judge John Behrens said in his ruling that he believed the argument made by the charities' barrister, Richard Wilson, that the two witnesses had thought they were witnessing Hazel Turner's will, not that of Whelen. He also acknowledged that the will was a home-made one drawn up in the absence of solicitors.

He said he accepted a report submitted in February by the forensic examiner Audrey Giles, which said that when the 1999 will was witnessed Hazel Turner's own will was placed directly underneath Whelen's will when one of the witnesses signed it. She also noted that different handwriting and ink had been used on the will, suggesting that it had been edited by multiple people over several dates.

He concluded that the 1999 will "should not be admitted to probate" and the 1982 will should apply instead.

In court this morning, the judge noted that the charities' costs for the case were £214,851 and said that Alan Turner must pay £50,000 towards these.

He said the witnesses to the will were not being attacked as dishonest but the attack was rather on their reliability.

He did not consider either of the Turners or the witnesses' actions to have been fraudulent, he said, but was critical of Alan Turner, saying he had pursued the case "to the bitter end", despite evidence from Giles that contradicted his argument.

Benjamin Fowler, representing Alan Turner, noted that his client had previously attempted to settle with the charities by dividing the estate among them but the charities had "flatly refused", offering Turner £5,000 instead. "They considered any more than £5,000 was unreasonable," he said.

The charities' statement said: "We respect the decision of the court and, on behalf of everyone who benefits from our work, we would like to extend our gratitude for the bequest which has been left to our charities. We will carefully consider the judge's comments."

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