FINAL WISHES: The number of cases challenging the validity of wills has risen in recent years

by LAUREN CODLING

A MAN who challenged his mother’s will granting his younger sibling a larger share of the inheritance has lost his case in a British court.

Rakesh Gupta alleged that his late mother Urmila Gupta’s will was invalid due to her lack of
English language skills.

The eldest of three children, Rakesh disputed the will which saw the defendant Naresh Gupta, who is Rakesh’s younger brother, have the family home left to him, together with a cash sum.

Urmila and her husband Laxmi had instructed a local solicitor to make mirror wills for both of them in the late 1990s.

However, after Urmila’s death in early 2014, Rakesh brought a claim challenging his mother’s will in early 2017. He stated that she understood little English and could only speak a minimal amount, meaning she could not have known and approved of the
contents of the will she executed alongside her husband.

Urmila and Laxmi, who moved from India to the UK in 1957, established a successful wig making business in north London in the mid-1960s. Rakesh joined the business in 1972.

The couple, together with their youngest child Naresh, his wife Meena and their two children Mohini and Rishi, bought a property in north London in 1984.

The court heard that as Urmila’s health began to deteriorate in her later years, Laxmi and Meena were her primary carers.

The case, however, was “unusual” in that the solicitor, Anal Sheikh, who was responsible for
the execution of the will, had been struck off in 2009. The will file was not available and several key witnesses, such as Urmila’s GP as well as bank manager, had either died or were untraceable.

Ryan Mowat, head of contentious trusts and probate at law firm Kingsley Napley LLP, and the lead partner on the case, also touched upon the atypical nature of the claim alleging Urmila’s lack of English language skills.

“My client [Naresh] rejected that allegation and anyway the judge accepted our position that it was probable that his loving parents had discussed their mirror wills together,” Mowat said.

“It highlights [the fact] that claimants should only challenge the validity of a will when they
have good evidence that it does not reflect the will maker’s testamentary intentions.”

In his claim, Rakesh alleged that his father Laxmi’s “dominance” of Urmila ought to raise
suspicion of her decision to benefit one of her three children differently under the will.

Despite his claims, however, judge Charles Hollander QC concluded that Rakesh had not established any suspicious circumstances.

Hollander noted it would be “astonishing” if Laxmi and Urmila had not discussed the contents of the wills before they were written up, even if Laxmi had been the “driving force” within their relationship.

He added that although Urmila may have spoken to her native Hindi when she was with other people who spoke the language, she would have been willing to express herself in English, especially to her UK-born grandchildren.

A spokesperson for Kingsley Napley confirmed that the courts had seen an “explosion” of cases which had attempted to challenge wills in recent years.

“Want of knowledge and approval claims can sometimes be seen by claimants as an ‘easier’ route to challenging a will than on other grounds, such as testamentary capacity or undue influence. But in this case, the claimant was unable to demonstrate that the circumstances
surrounding Urmila’s will were sufficient to arouse the court’s suspicions,” they said.

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