Wednesday 17 January 2018

High Court refuses to halt distribution of €283,000 estate

Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox
Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox

Aodhan O Faolain

THE High Court has refused to put a temporary stay on the distribution of the disputed will of a woman who drew it up a week before she died.

The dispute centres around the will of the late Celine Murphy (50), who died of cancer on March 15, 2011. She left her estate, valued at around €283,000, to her best friend Mary Butler, from Straffan in Co Kildare.

Ms Murphy's sister Majella Rippington, her husband Shaun, and Ms Murphy's other sister Edel Banahan, disputed the will and brought an action before the High Court seeking to have the will declared invalid.  They claim Celine signed the will in circumstances of duress and undue influence.

Mrs Butler and Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox, who was named as executor, denied the claims, saying Ms Murphy was of sound mind. They counter-claimed seeking to have the will declared valid.

Last year the High Court rejected the family's claim and declared the will to be valid. The Judgment is under appeal.

On Thursday the matter returned before the High Court when Mrs Rippington asked Ms Justice Caroline Costello for a stay on the High Court judgment pending the outcome of the appeal.

Mrs Rippington, who represented herself, said that an application has been made for the full grant of the late Ms Murphy's estate.

She wanted the court to make an order temporarily halting that process that until the appeal has been determined on the basis she was concerned about the dissipation of the estate's assets. 

Lawyers for the respondents opposed the application and argued there was nothing unusual in what was being done in respect of the estate.

Ms Justice Costello refused the application on grounds including that the High Court had previously refused to grant a stay on its judgement.

The court was effectively being asked to alter the order of another judge of the High Court which is something it simply cannot do, Ms Justice Costello said.

In 2015 in his judgment Mr Justice Seamus Noonan found the late Ms Murphy had the requisite capacity when she made the will leaving her estate, and declared the will valid. The judge said he was satisfied Mrs Butler was "a close and valued friend" of Ms Murphy. 

It would be idle to speculate the nature of the relationship between Ms Murphy and members of her family. But, the judge said, "suffice it to say there is nothing irrational about the contents of the will of the deceased".

There was also evidence from Ms Murphy's other friends and from Mrs Butler's daughter Johanna, who Ms Murphy asked to witness the will, along with Bishop Cox, in the Butler family home.

The judge said because of the outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations made against the defendants in this case, the Rippington/Banahan side should pay all the legal costs and the Murphy estate should not be burdened with those costs.  He put a stay on his costs pending appeal but not on any other order.

Mrs Rippington appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal is due to hear the case in October 2017.

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