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Many couples would be left scratching their heads if asked whether they own their home as 'joint tenants' or 'tenants in common'. However, in one case, the distinction led to a bitter will dispute which culminated in an 82-year-old man facing financial ruin and homelessness.
Just seven days before her death from lung cancer, the man's wife of 25 years made a new will leaving everything she owned to her son from her first marriage, including her share of the family home. She had previously held the property under a joint tenancy with her husband but, prior to making the will, she had taken steps to convert that into a tenancy in common.
Under a joint tenancy, her half of the house would have passed automatically to her husband on her death, regardless of the terms of her will. However, the effect of legally severing her half of the matrimonial home from that of her husband was that it fell into her estate and passed to her son.
Her widower challenged both the will and the severance of the joint tenancy on the grounds that she had lacked the mental capacity to make such important decisions on her deathbed and had not understood the legal effect of what she had done. He also accused her son of exerting undue influence over her. Those arguments, however, failed to convince a judge.
In rejecting the widower's challenge to the judge's decision, the Court of Appeal found that his case had no realistic prospect of success. Although the outcome was distressing for him, the judge's factual findings were unassailable. The ruling has left the widower facing a six-figure legal costs bill and means that he will have to sell his home to satisfy his stepson's inheritance.