Toby Bishop succeeds in reverse summary judgment in a probate claim

When truly fanciful probate claims arise it is a kindness to bring them to an end before trial.

On 25 January 2022 the High Court handed down judgment in Morris v Fuirer [2021] EWHC 3566 (Ch). Toby Bishop (instructed by Wilsons Solicitors LLP) acted for the successful Defendant charities in their application for summary judgment against this probate and proprietary estoppel claim.

In 2000 Mrs Morris made a will gifting her estate to her adopted son, the Claimant. Mrs Morris and her son were estranged from 2003 and she made wills in 2006 and 2010 reducing the provision made for him.

Mr Morris intimated claims and the executors, represented by Hugh Cumber, were granted a Cobden-Ramsey order. In response to which, Mr Morris commenced claims seeking pronouncement against the validity of later wills and relief arising from an alleged promise. The details of claim ran to 51 paragraphs, ending with a quotation from Lord Denning that “a promise made, is a debt unpaid.”, the particulars of claim comprised 172 paragraphs. Mr Morris challenged validity on the usual grounds.

Mr Morris’ capacity case that his mother was irrational from 2003. The Court found Mr Morris’ own account of their relationship was consistent with his mothers’ rational instructions to the solicitors drafting her wills and to her GP.

Mr Morris did not particularise any fact or matter capable of supporting a claim his mother did not know and approve of the content of these professional drafted wills which had been read over to her and in respect of which she had made amendments to the drafts.

Mr Morris accused Ms Fuirer of undue influence and fraudulent calumny. She and Mrs Morris had met at boarding school in the early 1930s and remained firm friends. Ms Fuirer had served in the Military Section at Bletchley Park decrypting enemy army ciphers until 1945. In later years she had called her friend daily. Mr Morris accused Ms Fuirer of turning his mother against him through a “drip, drip, drip of poison” during these daily calls.

Mr Morris did not particularise any pressure or persuasion Ms Fuirer was said to have placed on her friend, nor any aspersion cast against him (dishonest or otherwise). In the context of a friendship of more than 80 years, the mere fact of a legacy was insufficient. The reasons Mrs Morris gave contemporaneously for reducing the provision she made for her son were consistent with his account of their relationship.

The Master conclude that Mr Morris had no real prospect of succeeding in his claims, they were fanciful and there was no compelling reason why they should be disposed of at trial. She dismissed the claims and pronounced for the 2010 Will observing that the claim was “totally without merit and the attack on the [Ms Fuirer’s] character was wholly unjustified.”

You can read a copy of the judgment here.