Howard v Howard-Lawson  EWHC 3258 (Ch)
Estate; names and arms; will; Royal Licence
The case concerns a family dispute regarding the trusts created by PJC Howard’s will, who was Howard-Lawson grandfather and Howard’s great-grandfather. The Corby estate was vested in Howard-Lawson under the will’s trusts. Upon his son, Howard, reaching majority, father and son became entitled to the Corby estate together on an absolute basis. Based on a deed executed shortly afterwards, Howard-Lawson would be the tenant for life, while Howard would be tenant in tail in remainder. The same day saw the execution of a second deed, according to which the trusts of the will were confirmed, and so were Howard-Lawson’s life interest and an absolute remainder to H. Several years later the estate had to be sold, which led to Howard’s claim.
Decades after the original events, Howard claimed that he executed the first and second deed upon his father’s exercise of undue influence over him. He argued that as a result of his father’s breaches of trust in the administration of the trusts, he was stripped of his inheritance. Furthermore, Howard alleged that he did not receive anything from sale of the estate or from the ground rents of a related property. Howard said in evidence that as a young man of just 18, he was forced by his father to execute the two deeds without the opportunity to seek independent legal advice.
The Court held that influence had to be differentiated from undue influence. Thus, the question was whether the father’s persuasion was an invasion of Howard’s free will, whether he was able to choose to accept or decline his father’s advice. Based on the evidence and the fact that the claim was brought decades after the events, undue influence could not be established. With regard to the ground rents, Howard-Lawson did not commit any fraud (he may not even have known about the grounds rents’ continued payment) but his son was still entitled to equity on them, which Howard-Lawson had to pay.