Builder accused of 'befriended elderly woman and getting her to leave €500k home to him', court hears
A builder who befriended an elderly woman some years before her death is alleged to have used undue influence to get her to change her will, worth an estimated €500,000, and leave it all to him, the High Court heard.
Claire Browne died single, aged 88, in November 2011 having been in Clonskeagh Hospital in Dublin since 2003 where she had been assessed at different times with varying degrees of dementia, the court also heard.
In September 2008, she made a will leaving to builder Noel Wright her main asset, her former home in Beach Road, Sandymount, Dublin, which is now vacant, boarded up and worth an estimated €500,000, it is claimed.
Mr Wright, Kiltipper, Tallaght, Dublin, says he carried out work on her home and got to know her very well while she was in hospital. Mr Wright's father had been a good friend of Ms Browne's late brother Edward.
Edward had a son and daughter and the court heard the daughter, Jacqueline Mary Maryon, who lives in South Africa, is now contesting the 2008 will.
Ms Maryon says the court should declare that a previous will made by her aunt in October 1976, leaving everything to Edward, was her true last will and testament. If this was so, the proceeds would be divided between Ms Maryon and her brother as beneficiaries of their father's estate.
Joseph Jackson BL, for Mr Wright, said he client became good friends with Ms Browne after she was first admitted to hospital with injuries from a fall. "He visited her on a regular basis and he believes all others had abandoned her because she seemed to be getting visits from no one else", counsel said.
Three years before her death, in September 2008, she appointed Mr Wright sole executor and sole beneficiary of her will while in hospital. Solicitor Tim McIniry was present during discussions about the will but he was not present when it was drawn up and it appears to have been drawn up by Mr Wright himself, counsel said.
When Ms Maryon brought proceedings challenging the will, Mr Wright asked the court to order she provide security of legal costs should she lose the case as she was resident outside the jurisdiction.
After hearing an outline of the security for costs application, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan adjourned it for hearing to next month.
Vinog Faughnan SC (with Mark O'Riordan BL) for Ms Maryon, said his client was arguing that Ms Browne did not have testamentary capacity to make the will and that undue influence had been used to get her to make it.
Three cognitive tests to assess her capacity were carried out in the hospital betwen 2006 and 2008 showing she was in early stage Alzheimer's and dementia.
The 2008 will was made without legal or medical advice against a background where Ms Browne had for almost five years been exhibiting signs of dementia and cognitive impairment, he said.
There were serious questions to be asked about the situation leading up to the second will and it was in the public interest that the court should examine the matter, he said.
Mr Justice Gilligan was told the €500,000 estimate on the Beach Road property was a "drive by" estimate by a local auctioneer as he had been unable to gain access to the property. The judge said a full valuation should be obtained before the hearing date.