Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Woman contesting will sought to damnify her late sister's mental capacity', High Court told

Tim Healy

A WOMAN contesting her late sister's will had engaged in four years of litigation "to effectively challenge her sister's autonomy" in deciding to leave her estate to a long term friend, the High Court heard.

Majella Rippington, older sister of the late Celine Murphy (50), sought  to "damnify her sister's mental capacity" despite having been furnished with medical reports showing she had such capacity, Cormac Ó Dúlacháin SC said.

Mrs Rippington, replying to closing submissions by Mr Ó Dúlacháin, said she had come to court to contest the will because Ms Murphy had "allowed disingenuous people into her life". Her sister "became a victim" and so did her family and they had a right to look for justice, she said.

Hairstylist Ms Murphy died single, with no children, from cancer on March 15, 2011. She left an estate valued by the beneficiary at €283,000, including an apartment in City West, Dublin.

Mrs Rippington and Mr Ó Dúlacháin , who represents beneficiary Mary Butler, as well as executor Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox,  made submissions Friday, the fourth and last day of the will challenge.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said he he would give judgment as soon as he can.

Mrs Rippington, her husband Shaun, and Ms Murphy's other sister Edel Banahan, want the will declared invalid on grounds of duress and undue influence.

Mrs Butler and the Bishop deny the claims, say Celine was of sound mind, and have counter-claimed seeking to have the will declared valid.

Mrs Rippington, in her submissions, said they have been forced to bring proceedings because they had not been given "any real information" as to the circumstances in which the handwritten will was made. 

The actual witnessing of the will in the Kildare home of Mrs Butler - the day before Celine was admitted to hospital a week before she died  - raised many questions, she said.  Phone records show the time claimed by the defendant for the signing "was all over the shop".

Mr Ó Dúlacháin said Ms Rippington had over the last few days sought to undermine "one of the core things important to Celine - that was the relationships she had developed with friends and associates".

She had tried to claim Mrs Butler was not a friend despite evidence of two independent witnesses and had also questioned whether those witnesses were Celine's friends.

No evidence of duress or undue influence had been presented, only innuendo, counsel said.

The will, handwritten by Celine, was itself evidence of her last will and testament.

There was evidence Mrs Butler was a longstanding friend and there is nothing to stop a single person "deciding to make a bequest of everything she owns to someone she described as her best friend", counsel said.

Earlier, under cross-examination by Mrs Rippington, Bishop Cox (70) told the court said while he read the will before witnessing it in Mrs Butler's kitchen, he did not discuss its contents at all with Celine.

As a clergyman, and having served a number of years in the army and the harbour police, he was familiar with dealing with documents and this was why he had asked Celine to date the will when she signed it.

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