In the recent case of Breslin v Bromley involving contentious probate proceedings, a beneficiary was ordered to pay most of the costs of the claimant executor where her challenge to the validity of a will failed. This case serves as warning of the cost risks associated with trust and probate disputes.
In this case the claimant (Mr Breslin) was the executor and beneficiary of his aunt's will (Marjorie Beck). Mr Breslin had taken Marjorie to a solicitor so that she could draw up a will although she eventually executed it elsewhere in circumstances that some of the beneficiaries of her estate found questionable. Two of the beneficiaries of the estate challenged the validity of the will (and there were also accusations of undue influence).
The claim against the validity of the will failed and Mr Breslin successfully brought proceedings for a declaration from the court that Marjorie’s will was valid.
In relation to the issue of costs, the court made it clear that it did not consider Marjorie to be the cause of the litigation (and the court would not decline to award costs in Mr Breslin’s favour simply because the circumstances surrounding the execution of the will may have warranted an investigation into the will’s validity).
The court ordered that the one of the beneficiaries (who had put forward a positive case that the will was not valid) should pay Mr Breslin’s costs and was ordered to make a payment of £70,000 on account (although the final sum paid towards costs is likely to exceed this).
This case is a reminder that disputes relating to trusts and probate should not be entered into lightly and require careful planning and specialist advice from the outset.
By Scott Taylor
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