Friday 24 March 2017

Challenge by civil partner to diplomat's will dismissed

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Stock picture

Tim Healy

A judge has dismissed a man's challenge over a will executed by his civil partner, a former diplomat, hours before his death.

The medical evidence, and evidence of other witnesses including family members of the late Brian Earls, showed beyond doubt he had the necessary capacity to make the disputed will of July 4, 2013, Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan ruled.

The High Court challenge by Said Laaser to that will was the first of its kind taken after enactment of civil partnership laws here.

A pharmacist and native of Morocco who is now a naturalised Irish citizen, Mr Laaser claimed he did "much better" in an earlier will and brought proceedings against Maurice Earls and William Early, brother and brother-in-law respectively of Brian Earls, as executors of the deceased’s estate.

Mr Laaser previously lost in the High Court which found the disputed will was properly executed and there was "no attempt" to deprive Ms Laaser of his interest in the estate.

The Court of Appeal, after finding issues concerning the testamentary capacity of Mr Earls when making the July 2013 will had not been satisfied arising from the absence of medical evidence in that regard, directed a full rehearing in the High Court. 

Mr Laaser attended only the first two days of the rehearing before Ms Justice Heneghan after which, the judge noted, he emailed the court registrar saying he was consenting to it proceeding in his absence.

He wrote he had formed the view his evidence and cross-examination would not be needed any more, trusted in the "conscience" of the court and would not be appealing if it ruled the July 4, 2013, will "is the true and last will of my deceased partner".

"I apologise for any inconvenience caused by my actions and accept all the responsibility of the same," he added.

The hearing proceeded and Ms Justice Heneghan dismissed the challenge on all grounds.

Given the history of this matter, she said she would also direct the defendants' costs be paid out of Mr Laaser's share of the estate.

She found the will was properly executed and Brian Earls was of adequate sufficient and proper testamentary capacity at the time it was made and knew and approved of its contents.

In that will, made hours before Mr Earls died of cancer in a Dublin hospital, Mr Laaser was left 50 per cent of Mr Earls' assets in accordance with his statutory entitlements under civil partnership law.

Mr Laaser, the court heard, formed a romantic relationship with Brian Earls more than ten years ago and they lived together for about two years at Ovoca Road, South Circular Road, Dublin.   Mr Earls was a diplomat who had postings in Moscow, Warsaw and Ankara.

He made a will in March 2013 leaving the Ovoca Road property to Mr Laaser and €35,000 to his sister Catherine.

Maurice Earls was left his collection of books, papers and documents, plus €40,000 towards running costs of the Dublin Review of Books.

The will also provided for paintings, carpets and objets d’art to be divided equally between his three siblings and Mr Laaser, plus the contents of the Ovoca Road property, and left €50,000 to an Armenian friend. 

Mr Earls' family was told on July 2, 2013, he had secondary forms of cancer and he died at 4am on July 5, 2013.

The previous afternoon, he made a different will in which the most significant change was to leave 50 per cent of Ovoca Road to Mr Laaser with the rest divided equally between his siblings.

Maurice Earls told the court his brother had told him he wished to write a new will dividing his assets between Mr Laaser and his siblings.

That will was executed and witnessed by three members of the deceased's family hours before his death.

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