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Parliamant, Legislation and Public Sector

Appeal court overturns animal legacy ruling

Two animal charities have expressed their 'delight and relief' after a historic decision by the Court of Appeal on 9 June in a landmark legacy case, overturning the High Court judgment in the case of King vs Dubrey & Others [2014].

June Fairbrother made a will in 1998, leaving around £20,000 of pecuniary legacies to family and friends and the rest of her estate to seven animal welfare charities.

When Mrs Fairbrother died in 2011 her estate mainly consisted of a property worth £350,000. Sometime after her death, her nephew Kenneth King claimed that Mrs Fairbrother had spoken to him about her house four to six months before she died, effectively gifting her property to him.

In 2014 the High Court ruled that, by operation of the little known legal doctrine of donatio mortis causa (gifts made in contemplation of death), Mrs Fairbrother did gift the property to Mr King - a result which meant that the charities and other beneficiaries would receive nothing from her estate.

Two of the charities, Redwings Horse Sanctuary and Chilterns Dog Rescue Society, elected to appeal the decision, believing the High Court result set a dangerous precedent and undermined the legal sanctity of a properly executed will.

In the appeal judgment, Lord Justice Jackson said: 'In my view it cannot be said that June was contemplating her impending death at the relevant time. She was not suffering from a fatal illness, nor was she about to undergo a dangerous operation or to undertake a dangerous journey. If June was dissatisfied with her existing will and suddenly wished to leave everything to the claimant, the obvious thing for her to do was to go to her solicitors and make a new will. June was an intelligent retired police officer. There is not the slightest reason why she should not have taken that course.

'If the DMC claim is upheld, the effect will be that June's will is largely superseded and the bulk of her estate will pass to the claimant, who is not even named as a beneficiary in the will. This would bypass all of the safeguards provided by the Wills Act and the Law of Property Act.'

Charlotte Watts, solicitor for the charities, said: 'I want to thank the charities for having the courage to take this matter to appeal and overturn this dangerous precedent. It should send out a clear message to potential claimants that the court will not look favourably on those who try to circumvent the Wills Act.'

Mr King will receive £75,000 from the estate as the Court of Appeal confirmed that June Fairbrother's will did not make reasonable provision for him and he meets the legal criteria for a dependant under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

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