Granddaughter awarded £800k after probate solicitor deemed negligent

Published: 19/07/2013

A High Court judge has awarded a mother-of-three nearly £800,000 in damages after he found the acting Wills and Probate solicitor to be negligent.

Lorraine Studholm Feltham was not originally named in her step grandmother’s Will, Hazel Charlton opting instead to leave the majority of her £2.6m estate to her cousin and former GP.

Ms Charlton, however, had a late change of heart which saw her update her Will just weeks before her death in 2006 where she named Mrs Feltham as the primary beneficiary, an action which was successfully challenged with Ms Charlton’s cousin and GP accepting an out of court settlement of £325,000 each.

However it was later ruled that, while the new Will was homemade and produced with the help of Mrs Feltham, this was only done so as a result of negligence of Ms Charlton’s solicitor, Peter Ward.

Wishing to amend her Will Ms Charlton had approached Mr Ward, of Leicester-based firm Freer Bouskell. He, however, was concerned about her mental state and ability to make an informed decision and, as a result, did not change the Will.

Judge Charles Hollander QC disagreed with his assessment and deemed him culpable for Mrs Feltham’s losses:

“No doubt she [Ms Charlton] had good days and bad days, no doubt she showed signs of memory loss or paranoia from time to time which indicated some measure of the imprecise term, dementia.

“But it seems to me that, on the evidence, she was, in general, a lady of sound mind in the period.

“I can well understand how, on the material available to him, Mr Ward must have had a genuine concern that Mrs Feltham, having come on the scene at the last minute, was now seeking to take advantage of a vulnerable old lady by securing a change in the Will in her own favour.

“The problem was that the judgement was made by Mr Ward based on the picture seen by himself, and he was seeing only a partial picture.

“In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Judge Hollander concluded saying Mr Ward had been negligent by failing to execute Ms Charlton’s wishes and by failing to thoroughly investigate her mental state.

Mrs Feltham has since been reimbursed the monies awarded in settlement as well as the costs incurred in dealing with them, a figure of £712,801 plus interest.

Content correct at time of publication

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