Probate ruling where Will was executed over pint in pub shows importance of witness evidence

The importance of witness evidence in contested probate cases was highlighted by a man changing his Will for an estate worth approximately £160,000 over a pint, according to Thursfields Solicitors.

Importance Highlighted!

Suhail Sibtain, an associate solicitor at Thursfields, was referring to the case where taxi driver, Dean Hughes claimed that Gary Mendez, who suffered from alcohol abuse, made a new Will and left him everything.

He explained that the testator, in his previous Will which was executed in 2013, left his estate to his partner, Mr Rodrigues who had cared for him for more than 10 years.

He then met a taxi driver, who was about 20 years younger than him, who befriended him and persuaded him to make a new Will.

Suhail said: “The case of Dean Hughes v Hermes Rodrigues (2019) demonstrates how crucial witness evidence truly is.

“From 2013-14, after the testator had suffered a stroke, he relied on taxis to get around Eastbourne, and during this time, his health and alcohol abuse worsened as was observed by numerous friends who had known him over many years.

“He met Mr Hughes who, during a conversation in his taxi in 2016, persuaded him to change his Will, which was homemade and was executed in a local Wetherspoon’s pub.

“The new Will was challenged on the basis of forgery and/or a lack of testamentary capacity, however there was no medical evidence to show lack of capacity, and the handwriting expert report was inconclusive.

“At this point, most concerned family members would be justified if they just simply gave up and accepted the case.

“But Mr Rodrigues was determined to expose the truth and approached friends of the testator asking them to give evidence, which confirmed that Mr Mendez was increasingly confused and habitually intoxicated.

“After considering their evidence, the court accepted ‘real doubt’ about the testator’s capacity, and the burden of proof therefore shifted to the taxi driver, Mr Hughes, the propounder of the Will.

“It was held that the taxi driver failed to establish capacity and the Will was set aside on the basis of a lack of testamentary capacity.

“The case helps to prove that evidence from lay family members and friends should never be underestimated or overlooked as unimportant, as clearly sometimes it can make or break a case.”

Suhail added that every challenge to a Will should come with caution, as courts do not take challenges lightly.

He said: “They are becoming increasingly strict in allowing cases on the basis of capacity and there would need to be very persuasive evidence.”

Needing help with our Will?

Anyone seeking advice on Wills or estates can contact Suhail Sibtain on 0345 20 73 72 8 or by e-mailing ssibtain@thursfields.co.uk.

Get in Touch