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Who’s your BFF?

A photo of Noel McNicholas
5th January 2023

We would all like to be remembered in a Will by a close friend. Perhaps belated thanks from beyond the grave for years of comradeship, support and sharing stories of bygone times.

But problems can arise when the friend to benefit is not named in the Will or there’s difficulty or uncertainty about their identity. Instead, they leave their Estate to their “best mate”. Obviously, this would lead to the question “who is the best mate?”

That’s one of the issues in a dispute concerning a £400,000 Estate. Roy Panther was an amateur astronomer of some note and regard. He even has a comet named after him. He died in 2016 aged 90 unmarried with no children. He had previously executed a Will in 1986 leaving the bulk of his estate to the British Astronomical Association with whom he had a long association. But Mr Panther also, it is alleged, left another Will made on his deathbed, leaving everything to his “best mate”. Clearly, this was not a professionally drafted Will. Beneficiaries are always named in a Will (sometimes with an address) or they fall into a class of easily identified beneficiaries (for example “any grandchild of mine”).

Step forward Alan Gibbs. Alan claims to be the “best mate” referred to in the Will given he and Mr Panther had been close friends for almost all their lives. Not only that, they shared a passion for astronomy and ran an observatory together investing jointly in the premises and the equipment. Furthermore, Mr Panther had dictated the terms of the 2016 Will to Alan who himself put it onto paper. It is claimed that taking all these factors together - and in the absence of any other obvious candidate - Alan must be the “best mate” as that is what Mr Panther must have meant instead of using his name.

However, this is disputed by the British Astronomical Association as the primary beneficiary under the 1986 Will. There are a number of grounds for this challenge – it is alleged Mr Panther did not have testamentary capacity because he was suffering from dementia and cognitive impairment and did not understand the effect of the 2016 Will as he was hard of hearing. Further, that he may not have had knowledge and approval of his Will.

On that basis, the BAA have refuted Alan’s claim and that “best mate” is in any event insufficient to be certain to mean Alan. As this was a Will drafted without professional assistance or advice, it will be for the Court to determine what Mr Panther meant by “best mate” or whether that is too vague. The Court will consider the claim later this year.

If you are looking to dispute a Will please contact a member of our team today. We can meet in person with offices in Leamington Spa, Warwick, Hinckley, Market Bosworth and Stoney Stanton, or by video call.

It is important you have an up to date Will drawn up by a professional, please get in touch with a member of our team to discuss your requirements.