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11.05.2015 03:49 Age: 4 days

Family lose challenge on 'want of knowledge' grounds

Family lose challenge on 'want of knowledge' grounds

The family of the late Ronald Butcher has failed to overturn a will in which he left his entire GBP472,000 estate to a friend.

Butcher, of Enfield in north London, died in March 2013 at the age of 75. He left no close relatives, though in 2011 he had executed a will leaving his estate in equal shares to three persons. These were his cousin Joyce Gilkerson, and Evelyn Hutchins and Peter Rogers who were the daughter and son of a close friend and who called him 'Uncle Ron'. The will appointed Evelyn Hutchins as Butcher's executor.

However, in January 2013 he executed a second will, which only emerged after his sudden death from a stroke while alone at home. This will gave his whole estate to a local builder, Danny Sharp, who he had befriended some years before.

Evelyn Hutchins was surprised by this will, as there had not been any rift between Butcher and his original beneficiaries. Originally she suggested that it was a forgery, but expert evidence contradicted that idea. She was also forced to accept that the testator had had capacity at the time. Instead, her challenge was on the basis of the unusual nature of the bequest, which, she said, aroused suspicion that Butcher had not fully understood or approved its contents. She alleged that the two men had not been especially close friends and that Butcher had never even mentioned Danny Sharp's name to her.

It was then up to Sharp (to whom the testator had showed the will shortly before his death) to demonstrate that the 2013 will was valid.

In the event, the High Court judge, Lesley Anderson, agreed that there was nothing suspicious about the preparation and execution of the will, and that it had been made with Butcher's full knowledge and approval. She gave several reasons for this belief:

  • Its form was consistent with the testator's previous wills, which he made personally in 1991, 2003 and 2011.
  • It was short and straightforward, having been prepared and executed without a solicitor and by using widely available templates.
  • The testator asked his financial advisor to witness it, and then got another witness when the advisor warned him that two were needed for the will to be valid.
  • The testator had himself shown the will to Danny Sharp and read it to him.

Thus, concluded Anderson, Sharp had amply rebutted any possible prima facie case that the facts should 'excite the suspicion of the court' (in the traditional phrase from Williams on Wills). She duly pronounced for probate of the 2013 will (Sharp v Hutchins, 2015 EWHC 1240 Ch).