The High Court has ruled that a man is entitled to inherit a £350,000 Hertfordshire home despite it being left to seven animal charities in the owner’s will.
Kenneth King claimed he was given the house before his animal-loving aunt, June Fairbrother, died in April 2011.
In a judgment made yesterday, Deputy Judge Charles Hollander said he believed that Fairbrother told King to look after her pets in the house and left him the property as a death-bed gift – known as donatio mortis causa.
The seven charities – the Blue Cross, the PDSA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary, World Animal Protection, Redwings and the Chilterns Dog Rescue Society – said that it had been left to them and claimed that King, who had been bankrupted twice and jailed for acting as a company director when disqualified, could not be trusted.
"Mr King‘s evidence was that June never discussed the existence of a will but on a number of occasions told him that the property would be his after her death," the judgment says. "In the period shortly before her death, she signed documents to the effect that Mr King should have the property when she died."
The judge found that June Fairbrother made a valid donatio mortis causa of the property to King.
The charities said they were considering appealing against the decision.
The law firm Wilsons, acting on behalf of the charities, issued a statement expressing their disappointment at the ruling, which they believe overruled the will of a long term supporter of animal welfare.
The statement said: "June Fairbrother made a will in 1998 leaving just over £20,000 of pecuniary legacies and the rest of her estate to seven animal welfare charities. Mrs Fairbrother was well known for her love of animals and was a supporter of many of the charities during her lifetime.
"When Mrs Fairbrother died in 2011, her estate mainly consisted of a property worth £350,000. Some time after her death, her nephew, Kenneth King, claimed that Mrs Fairbrother had given him her property four to six months before she died, undermining her will and leaving nothing for her chosen charities.
"The court has ruled that Mrs Fairbrother did, by operation of the little-known legal doctrine of donatio mortis causa, gift the property to Mr King, meaning that the charities will receive nothing from the estate. The charities are considering whether to appeal the judgment and are therefore unable to comment further."
Lynn Cutress, chief executive of Redwings, said: "Obviously we must respect the judge's decision in this case, but, needless to say, we are very disappointed at this ruling, particularly given the nature and circumstances of Mr King's claim. Legacies are extremely important to us and we are currently considering our options before we decide whether to take this further."