When an academic who had retired to Cornwall bequeathed the bulk of his estate to charity, the will was opposed by his nephew.
The man, a widower, had realised that he needed help and could no longer live alone after a lawnmower disappeared from an outbuilding on his land. As a solution to the problem, he had asked his nephew to move down to the West Country with his family and to live in one side of his house, whilst he lived in the other.
However, as is too often the case in such circumstances, their relationship subsequently soured and they disputed the basis on which the nephew and his family had come to live in Cornwall. The academic argued that the arrangement was merely one of sharing household costs whereas his nephew claimed that he had been promised the house in which they lived, in exchange for moving his family to Cornwall and helping to look after his uncle.
The academic insisted he had not made any such promise to his nephew. He made a will leaving the bulk of his £1 million estate to various charities with 30 per cent going to his nephew on condition that he moved out of the property within six months of his uncle’s death.
When the academic died, his nephew challenged the will, arguing that he had in effect entered into a contract with his uncle.
The argument was eventually decided in the Court of Appeal, which accepted the nephew’s claims.
The case illustrates how easy it is for informal arrangements between family members to create legal issues and also the wisdom of seeking legal advice early when such issues are seen to be looming: it is normally much simpler to tackle potential problems than to wait until there is a full-blown dispute in train.