Judge praises LiPs denied adjournment to find solicitors

Probate: Defendants lost confidence in solicitors

A deputy master hearing a probate dispute in the High Court said the way litigants in person ran their defence justified a decision not to adjourn the case so they could instruct new lawyers.

Deputy Master Arkush twice rejected an adjournment, after Chief Master Marsh had also done so, and said the claimant’s counsel had acknowledged the competence with which the defendants had conducted their case.

Rea v Rea & Ors [2019] EWHC 2434 (Ch) involved the children of Anna Rea, who died in 2016 aged 85. Mrs Rea’s daughter as claimant sought to establish her mother’s will, while her brothers defended the claim on grounds including that Mrs Rea lacked testamentary capacity and that the will was procured by the exercise of undue influence.

They counterclaimed for probate of Mrs Rea’s earlier will from 1986.

In his ruling, Deputy Master Arkush recounted how the defendants “recently decided that they had lost confidence in their solicitors and dispensed with their services”.

After Chief Master Marsh refused their application for adjournment, which was made in part because they wanted to obtain new legal representation, the deputy master dismissed their application to set that ruling aside.

He continued: “On Monday 9 September 2019 at the opening of the trial, the defendants applied again for an adjournment, on the grounds that they wished to obtain new legal representation. I refused the application.

“Among the reasons given by Chief Master Marsh in his order of 27 August 2019 to refuse an adjournment was that the claim did not involve complex issues and he was satisfied that the defendants were able to deal with the claim themselves.

“Two and a half days of evidence and argument have borne out his judgment. The defendants have conducted their case with care, reasonableness and courtesy and I consider that they were not unduly or unjustly hampered in putting forward their case in person.

“Counsel for the claimant also acknowledged their competence and courtesy in putting forward their case and in their dealings with him outside court. This is to the defendants’ credit.”

Nonetheless, the claimant succeeded. Deputy Master Arkush concluded: “On one level it is understandable that the defendants feel disappointed, upset and resentful that they have not benefited from their mother’s will.

“In my judgment they have allowed these emotions to override a more considered reflection that Mrs Rea had reason to benefit Rita for all the care that Rita had given her over six years and more as her principal carer.

“But, like Master Clark in Nutt v Nutt, it is not my task to decide whether the 2015 will was justified or fair. I am only required to decide if it is valid. For the reasons set out above, I find that it is valid, and that it should be admitted to probate. The counterclaim therefore stands to be dismissed.”

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