Norfolk brothers win bitter battle over father's will

Emily Dennis Two Norfolk brothers are said to be “very pleased” after winning a bitter legal battle against their sisters over their 90-year-old father's will.

Emily Dennis

Two Norfolk brothers were last night said to be “very pleased” after winning a bitter legal battle against their sisters over their late father's will.

A High Court judge rejected a claim that the sisters had plied their millionaire father with sleeping tablets and whisky to get him to sign a will leaving them his �600,000 home.

But Mr Justice Briggs did find that Norfolk farmer George Key did not have the necessary capacity to make the will and did not approve of its contents which left the farmhouse to his daughters.

The ruling means that Hall Farm in Mundham, near Loddon, will go to brothers Richard, 67, and John Key, 64, under the terms of an earlier will. They had already been given 100 acres of farmland each by their father when he was alive.

The sisters will get just �15,000 between them.

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Following the ruling, Norwich-based solicitor Barry Ferguson, acting on behalf of the two brothers, said: “We are very pleased. The outcome has justified the decision of John and Richard to challenge a will that was purportedly made by the deceased in 2006.

“The judge found the testator Mr Key did not have the necessary mental capacity to make a valid will at that time which means, we say, that the effect of the court judgment is that the late Mr Key's true wishes will be carried into effect.”

The brothers took legal action against their sisters, Jane Key, 66, and Mary Boykin, 57, after their father died aged 90 in 2008 and they found out about the new will.

Mr Justice Briggs said the dispute between Mr Key's children had “transformed the formerly close relationship between his sons and daughters into one of mutual suspicion, recrimination and distrust.”

“While this judgment will, subject to any appeal, resolve the legal issue as to the validity of the 2006 will, I entertain no expectation that it will heal the underlying wounds, however much I would have wished otherwise,” he said.

Richard Key said his father had wanted him and his brother to have the farmhouse as they had worked in the family business since they were 15.

Mr Justice Briggs did not accept Richard's allegations that his sisters “deceitfully conspired” behind his back to force his father to change his will in their favour.

“The depth of suspicion and mistrust engendered in Richard's mind and, quite possibly, the minds of all those on his side of the family dispute... even went as far as to lead him to suggest that his sisters had plied his father with spirits and increased his dosage of sleeping tablets so as to render him amenable to their scheme.

“Regardless of whether Mr Key's dose of sleeping tablets was increased... I unhesitatingly reject that allegation.”

The judge said “a significant element of responsibility for this tragic state of affairs” lay with the solicitor who drew up the will, Michael Cadge.

Contrary to the clearest guidance in the legal profession, Mr Cadge accepted instructions for the 2006 will from an 89-year-old whose wife of 65 years had been dead only a week without taking any steps to satisfy himself of Mr Key's capacity to make a new will, said the judge.

The judge said he was satisfied Mr Key lacked the capacity to make a will. “He was both aged and, in psychiatric terms, infirm.

“He had just suffered the very recent and unexpected loss of his wife after 65 years of marriage, upon whom he was wholly dependent for his domestic care.”

Mr Justice Briggs ruled the 2006 will invalid which means that under the terms of a 2001 will, the brothers will inherit the farmhouse and the daughters will share a legacy of �15,000.

Last night in a statement the sisters said: “We are naturally very disappointed by the judgment. We are both rational and reasonable people. We took legal opinion before the case went to court and were advised that this was a case which could be defended.

“We also sought the opinion of an eminent expert in old-age psychiatry.

“Our reputations have been tarnished by things which were said from the witness box even though they were disproved during the proceedings.”