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The recent case of Biria v Biria addressed the main issues that can be raised when disputing a will.  Namely mental capacity, undue influence and “fraudulent calumny”. 

Mr Biria was 97 years old when he died in 2022.  Throughout his lifetime he had amassed an estate of c£17 million,  with assets and properties in England, America and Iraq.  The claim was brought by Mr Biria’s son “Ali” against seven defendants.  Six of whom were Mr Biria’s siblings and their issue, the seventh was a trusted adviser from America, Douglas Scott.

The claim centred around a will signed by Mr Biria in 2022, shortly before his death.  Ali claimed that his father did not have capacity to sign his will and that two of his siblings, Hamid and Nasrin, had exerted undue influence onto their father in order to write a will that left Ali out.  Ali also asserted that Hamid and Nasrin had poisoned the mind of their father against Ali.  Mr Biria would describe Ali as a “bad person, a dangerous person” in his later years and, based on this (untrue) assumption, had written him out of his will.  This in legal terms is referred to as fraudulent calumny.  Douglas Scott had thrown fuel on this fire by suggesting that Ali had “skimmed” profits off of the family business for a number of years. 

None of the defendants attended trial or engaged with the legal process.  Douglas Scott wrote a letter to the court and said he would do no more.  This non-involvement meant that Ali had a “free hit” at trial.  The court also heard medical evidence as to Mr Briar ‘s capacity and the lengths he had to go to actually see Mr Briar.  Hamid and Nasrin did everything in their power to stop this from happening.  When it did happen, they refused to leave their father’s side. 

The court of protection were involved in 2021 when Ali raised concerns about his siblings and their control of Mr Briar’s finances.  These concerns did seem to be true as cheques totalling c£16 million were made out by Mr Briar weeks before an assessment of his capacity were to take place.  When he died, there was around £1,400 in his bank.

Based on Ali and the medical expert’s evidence, Deputy Master Bowles found that Mr Briar did not have the necessary capacity to understand and approve the contents of the will that had been drafted.  So much so that it aroused the suspicion of the court to find that the will was invalid. 

The court also found that the behaviour of Hamid and Nasrin equated to actual undue influence (rather than presumed undue influence).  This meaning that the will signed was, again, invalid.  The will was not a document prepared by Mr Briar of his own volition, instead, it was a document orchestrated and controlled by Hamed and Nasrin. 

Whilst the will was ruled invalid, the claim of fraudulent calumny failed.  The court found that the allegations against Ali were created in the head of Mr Briar who was already suffering from dementia.  It may have had routes in the comments made by Douglas Scott some years before,  They were however, unfounded and not made by Hamid or Nasrin.  The story may have been different had the claims been made by them instead.  If so, they may have been made to deliberately leave Ali out of the will by poisoning the mind of their father against him.  As this was not the case, the judge found that this part of the claim was not to proceed.

For more information about Contentious Probate cases that have recently gone to court, please read our overview blog of 'Contentious Private Client 2024' here. 

Our Contentious Probate team can assist with all types of inheritance and will disputes. For further advice please contact the team on 01484 558058.

The above article is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any part of the information given.