Court green lights inheritance claim despite solicitor’s limitation error

Will: Daughter would suffer prejudice if claim could not proceed

A woman whose solicitors’ error meant she was too late to challenge her mother’s will has been given permission to bring her action out of time.

The High Court ruled that limiting Julie Dawn Colbourne to a loss of chance claim against the solicitors would be “prejudicial” to her.

Ms Colbourne’s father died in April 2018 after 55 years of marriage. Three months later, her mother became engaged to his carer, Tracey Jayne Collier-White, who was 33 years her junior.

The parents had mirror wills leaving the entire estate to each other and, on the second death, to Ms Colbourne, their only child.

However, in September 2018, the mother executed a new will, leaving the main asset, a property worth £195,000, to Ms Collier-White. They married on Christmas Eve 2018 and the mother died 18 days later.

The executors obtained the grant of probate in September 2021 and the six-month limitation period for an Inheritance Act claim passed on 20 March 2022.

District Judge Chloë Phillips, sitting in the High Court, said that a witness statement from Ms Colbourne’s solicitor, Omar Mahmoud of Birmingham firm Silks, indicated that this occurred because of “a technological malfunction of the firm’s case management system”.

This meant that the limitation date was “either not successfully registered on the system or was inadvertently removed when the case management system was restored overnight to a date before entry of the limitation date and thereby automatically removed”.

Ms Colbourne alleges that Ms Collier-White took advantage of her vulnerable mother; the latter provided no evidence to the court on the allegation but argued that Ms Colbourne had a “clear case” for a remedy against her solicitors.

DJ Phillips said the case law indicated that a prospective negligence claim against solicitors was “a factor to be taken into account but is not a counterbalance against other important factors”.

She continued: “Whilst the applicant may have a claim against her solicitors, that is a very different claim from the Inheritance Act claim which she wishes to pursue against the respondent and limiting the applicant to a loss of chance claim against her solicitors would be prejudicial to the applicant.”

Ms Colbourne outlined to the court her limited financial resources, that her mother used to help her financially, and that “she arranged her finances in expectation that she would inherit the deceased’s property as a result of numerous assurances to this effect from her late mother and late father”.

DJ Phillips said she was satisfied that Ms Colbourne has an arguable case.

Further, the estate has not been distributed and there was “no significant prejudice to the respondent as a result of the applicant exploring her possible claims arising from her having been disinherited”.

The judge concluded that “the interests of justice require permission to be granted” to serve the claim out of time.

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