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MacNairs + Wilson

3 minutes reading time (550 words)

Strange Bequests and Inheritance Battles

The New York Post recently reported that a wealthy widow from New York left $300,000 in her will to her two cats, with instructions that the money be used to make sure they are well looked after for the rest of their lives.

Ellen Frey-Wouters passed away two years ago at the age of 88, leaving an estate worth around $3 million. Her husband had predeceased her and the couple had no surviving children.
The two cats now live with two of her former health aide workers, but once they die any money remaining from the $300,000 bequest will go to Mrs Frey-Wouters’ sister, who is her only remaining living relative. Under the terms of her will, the rest of her estate has apparently been shared between some charities, Mrs Frey-Wouters’ lawyer and two more of her former health aides.

Contesting a Will

Although this story is quite amusing, it is a good illustration of the fact that sometimes people choose to distribute their estates in ways that friends or family disapprove of. When this happens it can sometimes lead to the will being challenged, and it then becomes the role of the court to decide whether the disputed will is valid, or whether it should be overturned, for example on the grounds of lack of capacity or undue influence.
In one recent case, a dispute over the estate of a man from New Zealand dragged on for around 16 years and has only recently been resolved.
The estate in question belonged to Alfred Willis, who died in 2000, and the dispute was between his son, Leslie Willis, and former carer Pamela Thompson, reports
Leslie Willis had hired Ms Thompson to look after his father in 1997. She only carried out this role for a few months, but stayed in close contact with Alfred until he died.
Alfred Willis had a will that left the majority of his estate to his son. However, in the months before his death, Leslie Willis found a new will signed by his father than left everything to Ms Thompson. When he asked his father about it, his father apparently became upset and denied having had that intention. Alfred then made a new will with the help of his lawyers that again left his estate to his son.

Suspected Fraud

Shortly before his death Alfred took out $50,000 of Bonus Bonds in his and Pamela Thompson’s names. When Alfred died, Leslie contacted the bank about the Bonds, saying he suspected a possible fraud, and the bank put a stop on them. Ms Thompson attempted to have the Bonds released to her the following year, but was unsuccessful, and ownership of the Bonds has only now been resolved.
In court, Ms Thompson maintained she only agreed to accept the Bonds because Alfred had been insistent, however Leslie argued that his father was taking morphine at that time and was not of sound mind.
A judge has now ruled that Ms Thompson has no right to the Bonds and that they belong to the executors of Alfred’s estate, who are his son Leslie and a lawyer.

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