Lucy Mignot from Blanchards Bailey explains the thorny issue of ‘fraudulent calumny’ – which is far less romantic than it sounds.
If you think ‘fraudulent calumny’ sounds like something from a Shakespeare play, you wouldn’t be far wrong. The concept of pouring poison in the ear was a common theme for the playwrite. Sadly however it is still very much relevant today in the context of wills.
Fraudulent calumny occurs when one person poisons a will-maker’s mind against someone who would otherwise be their natural beneficiary, and as a result the will-maker disinherits the person they have been poisoned against, or leaves them less than they would be expected to receive.
If fraudulent calumny can be proved, the will is invalid and will be set aside, reverting to the will-maker’s previous will or, if they did not have one, the intestacy rules.
In practice, these disputes are often between siblings, where one is alleged to have spread lies about the other to a parent. There are cases where it was alleged that a parent had been deceived into believing that one of their children had stolen from them, was a shopaholic and spendthrift, or was untrustworthy.
Fraudulent calumny will only be established if the person casting the aspersions knew that what they were telling the will-maker was untrue – or they did not care whether it was true or not, and there is no other explanation for the disinheritance.
It is a subtle form of undue influence where, rather than being forced into making changes against their will, the will-maker makes the changes of their own volition because their perception of the person they are disinheriting has been skewed. Fraudulent calumny is often missed by inexperienced or non specialist lawyers to the disadvantage of the client claiming that the will should be set aside.
If you are concerned that a will may have been affected by deliberate deception or you believe it may not be valid for any other reason, it is essential that you seek specialist legal advice from a contentious probate expert. Contact Lucy Mignot on 01305 217 303 or email@example.com