A judge has given a man close to a £1 million pay-out following a ruling of “negligence” on the part of a solicitor firm, the Mirror reports.

Professor Christopher Gosden said his mother, Dr Jean Weddell, had vowed in 2003 to leave him her Edwardian London home when she died. However, when she passed away in 2013, she had made a new Will that left nothing to her son and most of her estate to her new partner, Wendy Cook with whom she was in a civil partnership.

The professor found out that his mother’s home had been sold without his knowledge in 2010, so that by the time she died, all that was left in her estate was £5,000. The house is now worth £1.25 million.

Case to the courts

Professor Gosden took the case to the court, claiming that a trust scheme his mum set up in 2003 to minimise inheritance tax ought to have given him and his fellow-professor wife Jane Kaye the right to forbid the sale of the house.

The professor said he would never have allowed the sale of the house. He regarded his mother’s partner with “distrust” and said that Ms Cook would be the ultimate beneficiary of the house sale.

He and his wife sued the solicitors’ firm that was responsible for drawing up the trust agreement—Halliwell Landau. The couple claimed that the firm had left a loophole that allowed the house to be sold without their knowledge. The firm should have registered a restriction on the house with the Land Registry. This would have ensured Professor Gosden and his wife knew about any intention to sell and could have stopped it.

‘Negligence’ resulted in financial hit

In January 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that the solicitors’ firm’s “negligence” had resulted in the couple taking a financial hit.

In the latest hearing, Judge Mark Pelling QC ruled that the firm must pay the professor £985,299.45 in damages.

Dr Weddell regarded her son with “affection and generosity”, the judge said. In a Will she’d made in 2003, she had left her son and his wife her whole estate. At the time, she also set up an estate protection scheme where she put her house into a trust that was meant to deliver the property, or the money that would come from its sale, to the couple.

Made trustees

The professor and his wife were appointed trustees of the scheme, along with his mother.

She made a new Will in 2010, leaving almost everything to Wendy Cook, and later that year, the house was sold for £710,000.

In the appeal hearing, Professor Gosden had specified that the house had been a family home that his mother wanted to pass on to her family. He believed Ms Cook, rather than his mother, chose to sell the house.

Dr Weddell had then gone to live with Ms Cook on the Isle of Wight and there had been a “significant diminution of contact” between the professor and his mother. Professor Gosden and his wife had worried about his mother’s capacity and what they thought was the malign influence of Ms Cook on his mother’s affairs.

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