A kindly builder, who was rewarded with a £470,000 inheritance after befriending a pensioner and mending his leaking gutters for free, can keep the money after a judge dismissed a challenge to the deceased's will brought by his family.
The pensioner died at his home aged 73, but his body lay undiscovered for several weeks. Shortly before he died, he had signed a will leaving everything he had to the builder. The latter said that their friendship had flowered when he helped him out with odd jobs, visited him regularly and chatted to him about sport and the weather.
The pensioner's sole surviving blood relative, a distant cousin, and the children of an old family friend, who regarded him as their uncle, would have inherited under an earlier will. Although they accepted that he had mental capacity to make a valid will, and that his signature was not a forgery, they argued that the bequest to the builder was so inexplicable as to arouse suspicion.
In submitting that the pensioner did not fully comprehend or approve the contents of the will, the former beneficiaries argued that he had nothing in common with the builder and had no need of more friends. He was said to be a carpentry and DIY enthusiast who did not require the builder's assistance. At no time had he mentioned the builder to them and they had not met him before the pensioner's death.
However, in upholding the validity of the final will, the judge described the builder as a truthful and straightforward witness. He had been kind to the pensioner and they had discovered a real shared interest in mutual chat, banter and human interest stories. There was nothing suspicious about the way in which the will had been executed and initial claims – subsequently abandoned – that the pensioner's signature was a forgery had been undermined by expert handwriting evidence.
Challenges to wills by disappointed relatives are by no means infrequent even where, as in this case, the deceased's nearest relative was clearly not close to him. Taking appropriate legal advice and executing a valid will can help see off such claims at an early stage.