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Case Update: A question of Eligibility

25-08-2016

The Olympic Games has inspired us all and it seems that it is easy to forget the more negative stories that have surrounded the games; the green diving pool, the empty seats or even the question as to whether Russian athletes should be eligible to take part.

Another question of eligibility was determined in the recent case of Randall v Randall [2016] EWCA Civ 494, where the Court of Appeal decided that a creditor of a beneficiary under a will has sufficient standing to challenge the will’s validity.

Background
Colin Randall (appellant) and Hilary Randall (respondent) are divorced and as part of the divorce settlement, if the respondent were to inherit more than £100,000 from her mother, she would keep the £100,000 but the balance would be split between the appellant and the respondent.

On her mother’s death, the respondent received exactly £100,000, which triggered a claim from the appellant to challenge the validity of the will alleging that it was not duly executed on the basis that the deceased did not intend by her signature to give effect to the will. If the will was deemed to be invalid, than the appellant would be entitled to an estimated £75,000 on the basis of the deceased’s previous testamentary provision.

The Issue
In order to bring a probate claim, rule 57.5 Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) provides that “the claim must contain a statement of the nature of the interest of the claimant and of each defendant in the estate”. It is a long-standing requirement that a probate claimant must be able to claim an ‘interest’ in the estate.

The court at first instance found against the appellant on the basis that “interest in the estate is to be determined by a reference to the touchstones of: (1) whether they are personal representatives, (2) the grant of representation, and (3) entitlement to a distribution of the estate.” The Master found that the court is concerned with identifying an interest in the estate and not whether someone is ‘interested’, drawing comparisons with a typical creditor of the estate and their lack of legal standing to challenge a will’s validity. As a result, the appellant was found to have insufficient standing in which to challenge the will.

The Decision
The Court of Appeal took a different view. Lord Dyson found that there was in fact a real difference between the respective positions of a creditor of an estate and a creditor of a beneficiary of an estate. The Court held that the interest of the creditor of a beneficiary is to ensure that the beneficiary receives what is due. The interest of a creditor is to ensure that there is due administration of estate.

The Court found that upon surveying the case law, there are no difficulties in adopting a broad construction of the word ‘interest’ and as such the appeal was allowed.

Comment
The decision by the Court of Appeal ultimately relates to a procedural, jurisdictional matter, bringing welcome clarity to this area, even if the ruling does not concern the substantive merits of the claim that now may ultimately by the appellant.


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