London - A sister and niece of a childless widow have won an £825 000 legal fight over her will after claiming she was ‘bullied and coerced’ into signing it shortly before her death.
Former nurse Shirley Guymer, 78, was in hospital dying from cancer when she signed the new will, leaving her valuable home to her brother Terry Crook, 78, and his sons Andrew, 50, and Malcolm, 54.
But the move, two months before her death in March 2016, split the family and led to her sister Diane Stoner, 77, and her daughter Karen Reeve, 51, going to court to contest its validity.
They argued before a judge at the Central London County Court that the men had ‘stitched up an old lady’ into signing a new will when she didn’t understand what she was doing.
Her previous will split 95 per cent of her estate between 11 nieces and nephews, the children of all five of her siblings, and they argued this should remain valid.
The court heard the rest of the family backed Mrs Stoner and Mrs Reeve in the legal fight.
But after an eight-day trial the case was halted before the judge made his ruling when the men backed down and agreed the latest will should be scrapped. The biggest asset was Mrs Guymer’s £645,000 hilltop house near Petersfield, Hampshire. She also had around £180,000 in cash and investments.
The controversial will left half the house to Mr Crook and quarter shares to his sons. Remaining funds were to be split in various amounts between her five siblings and their children.
However, the estate will now be split between the nieces and nephews as detailed in the earlier will.
Speaking after the hearing yesterday, Mrs Reeve said: ‘We are absolutely delighted with the outcome and that Shirley’s wishes will be carried out.’
She added: ‘This has taken four years of hard work. I would like to thank my mum Diane Stoner, my husband and all of my family.’
A legacy of 5 per cent of the estate will go to a local hospice in recognition of the care given to Mrs Guymer’s husband Bernard before he died.
Challenging the 2016 will for the women, barrister Julian Sidoli said Mrs Guymer lacked the mental capacity to understand what she was signing.
He claimed it was ‘procured by undue influence’ and that Malcolm was the driving force. Cross-examining Terry Crook, Mr Sidoli said: ‘Between you and the rest of your clan, you stitched up an old lady.’ But Mr Crook branded the accusations ‘rubbish’.
His sister, Dee Parker, told the judge her brother had constantly ‘controlled and belittled’ Mrs Guymer. ‘She didn’t hate him. She loved him, but she was frightened of him,’ she said. ‘I don’t hate him. But I am ashamed of him.’
It is not known who will pay costs but Mr Crook and his sons could be left with a six- figure legal bill.