Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

Will of woman who left €500,000 estate to builder friend annulled

Tuesday, 24 November, 2015
The Irish Times

A retired journalist who bequeathed an estate with an estimated value of €500,000 to a builder friend did not have testamentary capacity to make the will, the High Court has ruled. The court made an order condemning a 2008 will that Claire Browne made in favour of Noel Wright, Kiltipper, Tallaght, Dublin. Ms Browne died in 2011, aged 91.

Jacqueline Maryon, a niece of Ms Browne, who is based in South Africa, had contested the will. The order refusing to prove the will – enter it into probate – was made yesterday by Mr Justice Paul Gilligan on consent between Ms Maryon and Mr Wright. 

The judge said he was satisfied to make an order condemning the 2008 will, and all caveats, on the basis it was void and of no effect by reason of Ms Browne’s lack of testamentary capacity. The court’s order means another will, made in 1976 in favour of Ms Browne’s late brother Edward, uncle of Ms Maryon, is now her true last will and testament. 

Ms Maryon argued that she and her brother Peter Reynolds, as the only surviving relatives, were beneficiaries of their Uncle Edward’s estate and therefore the proceeds of their Aunt Claire’s will should go to them, not Mr Wright. 

In addition to claims that Ms Browne lacked testamentary capacity to make a new will in 2008, Ms Maryon alleged undue influence. 

Ms Browne’s home on Beach Road, Sandymount, Dublin, with an estimated value of €500,000, comprised the bulk of her estate.

Vinog Faughnan SC for Ms Maryon, said yesterday the case had been resolved following talks and all the court needed to hear was evidence from medical personnel as to testamentary capacity. 

Prof Desmond O’Neill, a consultant physician in geriatrics, who reviewed Ms Browne’s medical records, said he believed she did not have testamentary capacity. Previously, the court had heard that Ms Browne died in November 2011, having been in hospitals in Dublin since 2003. 

Mr Wright had denied he used undue influence over her, describing the claim as outrageous. He said he had carried out work on her home and got to know her very well when she was in hospital, when he was her only visitor. It was also claimed Ms Maryon and her brother Peter had “effectively ignored and disregarded” Ms Browne in the final decades of her life. Mr Wright had also maintained she was of sound mind when she made the will. 

The court heard that three cognitive tests to assess her capacity were carried out in the hospital between 2006 and 2008 showing she was in early stage Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

The 2008 will was made without legal or medical advice against a background where Ms Browne had for almost five years been exhibiting signs of dementia and cognitive impairment, it was claimed.