London - A widow on Tuesday won a court battle with her stepson over their £450 000 (R8 million) home despite faking her husband’s will to buy it.
Diane De Marzo, 57, purchased the house with £150 000 (R2.6 million) from the estate of Michael Ball, her property investor husband.
She bought it jointly with her stepson, 33-year-old Sonny Ball, Central London county court was told. But the arrangement went sour when Mr Ball and his wife Leahann claimed the £150 000 was a gift to them and Miss De Marzo had no right to the property.
His stepmother said she was ordered out ‘like a dog’.
An investigation into the source of the money revealed she had faked her husband’s will at a ‘drunken party’.
Judge Simon Monty still ruled that Miss De Marzo had a legitimate stake in the house while also reporting her to the Attorney General for the forgery.
Michael Ball, who died in 2013 without making a will, owned a large villa, a rental house and two beachside apartments in southern Spain as well as a flat in Kent. His death left his wife short of cash and with no prospect of releasing the money from his property portfolio.
The judge said: ‘She had no money at the time and could not look after the properties; she had debts to pay but no money.
‘Diane took advice from an unidentified financial adviser, who told her that the only thing she could do was to “get an English will”. When she said she didn’t have one, the reply was: “Well, find one”.’
Miss De Marzo drafted a will in her late husband’s name, using her own as a template. She put his name in place of hers and made herself the sole beneficiary.
‘At a drunken party she produced the will and said words to the effect of: “Who wants to sign it?’’’
The judge said she dishonestly used the forged will to obtain a grant of probate in her name and sell the properties in Spain. He said the case should be referred to the Attorney General ‘to consider whether any criminal proceedings should be brought against Diane or others; and to consider whether to bring proceedings for contempt of court’.
The judge said the forgery did not invalidate Miss De Marzo’s 37.5 per cent claim on the property.
‘Sonny and Leahann have wrongly denied the existence of the house purchase agreement,’ he said.
‘I do not think that the agreement between the parties, recorded in the house purchase agreement, should be defeated by Diane’s dishonesty in relation to the will.’
The court was told that Miss De Marzo moved in with Sonny and Leahann after the purchase of the shared property in Abbey Wood, Kent, in 2015. But she was asked to leave when they decided the house was too crowded.
The judge ruled that a shared ownership document Sonny and Leahann signed in a pub did represent an agreement over the property.
He said the couple were entitled to ask Miss De Marzo to leave, and the court will now examine more evidence before deciding whether the house needs to be sold so that she can be paid her share.
In her evidence, Miss De Marzo, who has known Sonny since he was five, said she could not give him £150 000 because it would have meant less for her husband’s four other children, three of whom he had with her.Daily Mail