Animal Charities in Legal Victory against Family of Elderly Donor

Two animal charities have won theirappeal against a High Court ruling that a man who cared for his elderly aunt in her final years was entitled to her “gift” of the £350,000 home they shared.

Kenneth King, 60, claimed that a few months before his aunt June Fairbrother died in April 2011, she handed him the deeds to her house in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, saying: “This will be yours when I go.”

Last year, seven charities said that the evidence of Mr King was unreliable and Solicitors acting on behalf of  the 7 animal charities including Chiltern Dog Rescue and Redwings Horse Sanctuary said that Mr King’s story was “too convenient by half”.

In the High Court, Deputy Judge Charles Hollander said that divorcee Ms Fairbrother adored animals, had a variety of cats and dogs and it was common knowledge that she intended to leave the property – her principal asset – to animal charities.

This is what she did in her 1998 will but, from 2010, she signed documents with Mr King’s assistance, which did not constitute valid wills, which left the house to him in the hope he would care for her own animals. In fact, after she died, Mr King did not follow her wishes and sent her dogs to a dogs’ home.

The judge said that the documents signed by Ms Fairbrother provided “‘powerful corroborative evidence” that in the period shortly before her death, she was seeking to leave her property to Mr King.

He rejected the argument that Ms Fairbrother, who had some memory loss did not have capacity, four to six months before her death, to make a gift of her property.

On Tuesday the court allowed an appeal by Chiltern Dog Rescue and Redwings Horse Sanctuary – the main beneficiaries under the will – on the basis that the facts as found by the judge did not establish that a deathbed gift had been effected.

They said that, in late June 2010, Ms Fairbrother had the capacity to make either a fresh will or a deathbed gift, but did not in fact take either of those steps, and her conversation with Mr King did not give rise to such a gift.

Lord Justice Patten said that the words “This will be yours when I go” were consistent with her intention to make a will of the property in Mr King’s favour but she did not say that she was giving him the property there and then, subject to her death, nor did she mean that. Subsequent events showed that she believed that to achieve this she needed to make a new will.

They went on to back the High Court judge’s finding that, if he was wrong about the gift, Mr King should receive a lump sum of £75,000 out of Ms Fairbrother’s estate.

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