Solicitor's Evidence Crucial in Undue Influence Claim

When an elderly couple fell out, the circumstances surrounding their land transfers meant that a court hearing was necessary to unscramble the position.

The two had formed a partnership in August 2001. Two years later, the woman partner created a declaration of trust over three pieces of land for the benefit of herself and her partner. Two years after that, she transferred two of the three pieces of land to the sole ownership of her partner. She had issued a notice of retirement from the partnership a few months earlier. Four years later, a contract under which the two would become joint owners of the third property was signed but the transaction was not completed.

The woman went to court in 2013 to have the property transactions set aside, arguing that they were the result of the exercise of undue influence on her by her partner when she was suffering from medical problems and was under financial pressure. She alleged that her partner was ‘aggressive and bullying’, and claimed that the document dissolving the partnership was signed under ‘extreme pressure’. She contended that their partnership had, in fact, continued and she asked the court to dissolve it at the hearing.

The man requested in his counterclaim that the court give effect to the contract over the third property.

Deciding on the claims was made more difficult not only by the time that had elapsed since the events took place but also by the fact that, by the time the case reached court, both the litigants were advanced in years.

Crucial to the final decision was the evidence of the solicitor who dealt with the property matters and prepared what was the final partnership agreement between the couple.

The judge concluded that although both had given their evidence honestly based on their recollections, because their evidence differed, he must rely mainly on the third party evidence and the documentary evidence available.

He concluded that the claim of undue influence failed. His opinion was reinforced by the contribution made by the man, to his detriment, of both financial input and physical labour. The counterclaim also failed, however.

It is rather surprising that this case ever got to court, as the evidence for undue influence was lacking. However, key to the decision was the documentary evidence, including the file notes and correspondence from the solicitor. It is essential if you are making significant gifts or transactions, or are intending to take on legal obligations or enter into contractual relations, that this is done with the benefit of professional advice and appropriately documented.
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Chris Taylor
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