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If you are required to administer an estate – act quickly and properly or face unwanted consequences.

Our contentious probate team recently achieved success for our clients by persuading the High Court to throw out claims brought by a deceased’s third wife and her son against the deceased’s estate.

The facts of the case were unusual and the legal issues raised numerous and technical.  The important lessons to be learned from the case are:

  • The importance, to anyone who finds themselves having to administer an estate, to do so quickly and ideally with professional help and;
  • If a party wishes to bring a claim against an estate they should ensure their claim is properly formulated from the outset.
The Facts

In 1990 Mr Bhusate died without a will.  At the time of his death he had six children and the value of his estate was estimated, in the year following his death, to be approximately £140,000. His main asset was a house in North West London.  In the absence of a Will, Mrs Bhusate (who claimed to be Mr Bhusate’s third wife) and one of his daughters from his first marriage applied to Court to be allowed to administer the estate in accordance with what are called the ‘intestacy rules’. This would have meant, in simple terms, that Mrs Bhusate was entitled to a lump sum payment of £75,000 and half of the balance of the estate, with the remainder to be split equally between Mr Bhusate’s six children. There was an expectation that the property would be sold fairly quickly and the proceeds distributed between the beneficiaries.

The Court issued the Grant of Letters of Administration in August 1991 and Mrs Bhusate took steps to market the house for sale in June 1992.  By August 1994 with the house not having been sold Mrs Bhusate withdrew it from the market and continued to live in the property rent free with her son.  No other steps were taken to administer the estate and the property remained registered in Mr Bhusate’s sole name.

The Claim

Amazingly, some 28 years after Mr Bhusate’s death, and while still living in the house, Mrs Bhusate brought a complicated claim asking the Court to grant her what is called a beneficial interest in the house, she wanted to become the sole beneficial owner of the property. Unusually she put forward three different versions of her claim supported by the same facts. Mrs Bhusate’s son also brought an unsuccessful claim within the same proceedings supported by a contradictory factual narrative.

We were approached by four of Mr Bhusate’s children asking for our help to defend the claims which included getting an order removing Mrs Bhusate and her fellow administrator as administrators of the estate, as they had clearly shown themselves to be incapable of administering the estate.

The result

The High Court decided that all elements of the claims failed and Mrs Bhusate and her son were not granted a beneficial interest in the house. The court was not impressed by way the claims had been formulated and it made it clear that it was not possible for a party to pursue a case based on inconsistent factual narratives (in this case Mrs Bhusate’s and her son had put forward contradictory versions of their own intentions which they alleged to have been held in common with the other defendants). A party bringing a claim must decide which facts support their claim and set these out clearly from the outset, rather than using ambiguous language in attempt to conceal and/or confuse the true facts.

The proceedings are still ongoing as Mrs Bhusate has a further statutory claim.

The case has been widely reported as it is of legal significance.  One of the simple lessons to be learnt from the case is for anyone who finds themselves administering the estate is that you need to get on with it and do it properly!  If there are any doubts as to how you should be performing your duties, legal help should be sought to avoid the possibility of unwanted consequences. Also if you bring any claim to Court it is important to ensure that your claim is drafted properly and the facts are properly analysed to avoid you incurring significant costs pursuing your claim, only to fall at the first hurdle.

If you have questions arising from this blog or would like to find out more about the case or the issues it raises please contact contact Alexa Payet in our  Disputed Wills and Trusts team on 020 7288 4707 or email her at AlexaPayet@boltburdon.co.uk.

You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the team here.

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