Thursday 27 October 2016

Man must pay sister €30k after dispute over late mother's 'unusual last will and testament'

Tim Healy

Published 25/05/2016 | 18:00

Terence Shaughnessy of Seskinryan, Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, pictured leaving the Four Courts after judgement.Pic: Collins Courts
Terence Shaughnessy of Seskinryan, Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, pictured leaving the Four Courts after judgement.Pic: Collins Courts

A woman is entitled to a €30,000 payment from her brother arising out of a dispute over their mother's will, the High Court ruled.

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Helen Shaughnessy, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, sued Terence Shaughnessy, Seskinryan, Bagnelstown, also Carlow, alleging he breached his duty as executor of the will of their widowed mother, Helen senior, who died in September 2007.

She claimed his failure to take steps to have the will admitted to probate resulted in financial loss because she was unable to avail of stronger property prices soon after the death of her mother and sell a site which had been left to her.

He refused to complete his duty as executor because of reservations he had about his mother's will, particularly that she (mother) had only bequeathed a life interest in the family farm he worked rather than leaving it to him so he could pass it on to his wife or to whoever he wished.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the half-acre site left to the sister at Seskinryan was valued at around €90,000 at the time of the mother's death and, allowing for subsequent property price decreases, the judge estimated it could have been sold within a reasonable period of time after the death for €50-60,000. 

He therefore assessed Ms Shaughnessy's loss at €30,000.

He did not accept that certain medical complaints of Ms Shaughnessy could be linked to her brother's actions.

There had been nothing stopping her from completing the administration of the estate since 2012 when agreement was reached lifting the brother's legal block on Ms Shaughnessy and her two sisters being executors of the will, he said.

Earlier, the judge said there was no doubt the mother executed "an unusual last will and testament".  She left cash of around €20,000 each to the three daughters as well as a half acre site for each at Seskinryan.

She also left her own home at Seskinryan to the three sisters.  Terence had already built his own home on a site adjoining his mother's home.

She directed Terence was to pay €3,500 to Helen if she married.

She left all her stock and machinery to Terence for his own use.

She bequeathed the land and farm buildings to Terence "for the term of his natural life".

If Terence had children, he could pass them on to them.  However, if he died without children, the farm was to go to the three sisters and if any of them died, their equal share would go to the other sister(s).

The judge said among the difficulties which arose after he death was that Terence, having farmed the lands since he was a boy, maintained he had a very difficult life and had not got much out of the farm.

He could not understand how his mother could not have simply bequeathed the farm in full to him so he could then pass it on to his wife or someone else, the judge said.

There was a further complication in that there had been no legal arrangement for the transfer of the home he had built at Seskinryan with the result he has no registered title relating to that house where he now lives with is wife.

The judge also said Helen had claimed that as a result of the delay in executing the will, she lost €46,000 on a property she bought in Estonia in 2005.

Due to interest rate increases and lack of tenants, she found herself in arrears and the bank foreclosed on her €128,000 loan for the property.

She claimed if she had got the €20,000 cash left to her by her mother, she would have been able to service the mortgage on the Estonian property and the bank would not have foreclosed.

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