Inheritance Claim Approved by Court regardless of Solicitor’s Error

In the High Court case of Colbourne v Cooke & Ors (Re Estate of Barbara Collier-White) [2022] EWHC 3029 (Ch), a woman who was unable to contest her mother’s will due to a mistake by her solicitors has been awarded permission to initiate her claim after the deadline has passed. The High Court determined that it would be prejudicial to Julie Dawn Colbourne if her claim against the solicitors was restricted to a loss of chance claim.

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History of the Inheritance

Following 55 years of marriage, Ms. Colbourne’s father passed away in April 2018. Three months later, her mother got engaged to Tracey Jayne Collier-White, her husband’s caregiver and 33 years younger than she is.

In their identical wills, the parents left their whole estate to one another and, upon their passing, to Ms. Colbourne, their only child.

However, the mother updated her will in September 2018, leaving Ms Collier-White the major asset—a home worth £195,000—in it. On Christmas Eve of 2018, they got married, and the mother passed away 18 days later.

Ms Colbourne claims that Ms Collier-White exploited her fragile mother; the latter produced no evidence in court on the charge but maintained that Ms Colbourne had a clear case for a remedy against her solicitors.

Solicitor’s Limitation Error

The executors received the grant of probate in September 2021, and on March 20, 2022, the six-month window for filing an Inheritance Act claim expired. District Judge Chloë Phillips stated in the High Court that Ms. Colbourne’s solicitor, Omar Mahmoud, of the Birmingham firm Silks, testified that this happened as a result of “a technological fault of the firm’s case management system.”

As a result, the limitation date was either accidentally removed when the case management system when it was restored overnight to a date prior to the limitation date’s entry, or it was not successfully registered on the system.

What did the Judge decide?

According to District Judge Phillips, case law indicates that a potential negligence lawsuit against solicitors is a factor to be considered but is not a counterweight against other essential reasons.

She went on to say that, while the applicant may have a claim against her solicitors, it is very different from the Inheritance Act claim she intends to pursue against the respondent, and confining the applicant to a loss of chance claim against her solicitors would be detrimental to the applicant.

Ms Colbourne explained to the court her low financial means, how her mother helped her financially, and how she planned her finances in the anticipation that she would inherit the deceased’s property due to multiple guarantees from her late mother and late father.

DJ Phillips stated that she believes Ms Colbourne has a compelling case.

Furthermore, the estate has not been divided, and there has been no serious injury to the respondent as a result of the applicant investigating her potential rights deriving from her disinheritance.

The judge ruled that the interests of justice necessitate the granting of authorization to serve the claim out of time.

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