Fresh twist in will saga after reunion
A 70-year-old woman who launched a bid to overturn her late father’s will has reunited with her seriously ill estranged brother, who has now backed her claim that their elderly parent was “unduly influenced” into leaving his home to two distant relatives.
Elaine Charles had been up against younger brother Albert Taylor in her legal battle to get their father’s will thrown out on the grounds that he had dementia when it was drawn up.
A judge ruled against her in 2014 after he decided that the will was “properly executed and appeared rational”.
He told Ms Charles the burden of proof was on her to “raise a real doubt” about her father’s mental state.
She has now submitted new evidence from her brother to the Supreme Court on how their father John Howard Fubler Taylor, known as Howard, came to leave his house — Fubler Villa on Hamilton’s Cedar Avenue — to his niece’s children, instead of to her and his own grandsons.
The evidence is an affidavit sworn by Mr Taylor on May 9 in which he claimed he allowed Roderic Pearman, the husband of his father’s niece and an executor of the will, to “force my father to do what he would not have ordinarily done” when he was “not mentally equipped to engage in any legal undertaking”.
Mr Pearman, 82, told The Royal Gazette the allegation was “absolutely untrue” but declined to comment further.
Mr Taylor, who was given a life interest in Fubler Villa in the contested will and lives in the house, is seriously ill and confined to a wheelchair after both his legs were amputated in recent separate operations.
His health problems led to a reunion with Ms Charles, who has helped care for him.
She said: “My brother Albert has admitted to being complicit with Roderic Pearman, has asked for my forgiveness and has written a letter documenting his actions by way of atonement. I am sure it was a letter to clear his conscience for betraying his nephews, the rightful heirs. Life has a way of balancing itself.”
The disputed will was drawn up for Howard Taylor in 2002 by Kim Wilson, now the Minister of Health, when she was managing partner at the law firm Trott & Duncan.
Howard Taylor was 88 at the time and died in 2007.
Mr Taylor, 62, claimed in his affidavit that he first noticed a decline in his father’s “mental functioning” after 1997.
He said that he and his sister “shared a very acrimonious relationship” with “no love lost” from about 1999 but managed to co-operate to care for their father “who was experiencing physical and mental failing”.
Mr Taylor said that “family history tells a story that my father influenced an aunt, the original owner of Fubler Villa, to give the property exclusively to him rather than it be divided equally among all the nieces and nephews” and how “this story of perceived family injustice impacted upon all later relationships between successive generations”.
He said: “I knew my father was not mentally equipped to engage in any legal undertaking in 2002 but my resentment towards my sister influenced my decision to assist Mr Roderic Pearman in his efforts to convince my father to leave his home to his [Mr Pearman’s] two sons.
“I was promised a life interest and I was satisfied I would have a roof over my head. I did not concern myself that my father wished for his property to remain in the family and that he would have ensured his grandsons would benefit from his home at his death.
“I truly regret the role I played in allowing Mr Roderic Pearman to force my father to do what he would not have ordinarily done had it not been for Mr Roderic Pearman’s influence and my unwillingness to do what my father would have wanted.
Mr Taylor added: “I must share that I want to clear my conscience as I am presently experiencing health challenges, with an outcome as yet undefined.”
Mr Taylor appeared uncertain about his father’s mental state at the time the will was made in 2002 in an interview with The Royal Gazette on May 29.
He said then he believed his father did not have dementia and “was in his right mind ... but with a bug in his ear”.
Mr Taylor added that he also believed Mr Pearman subjected his father to a “constant barrage of influence”.
He said, although Howard Taylor “wasn’t a drooling idiot”, he was mentally impaired but “skilful” enough to hide it.
He added: “That will was a fiasco. It was a mess. I could see the manipulation but there was nothing I could do about it. The milk is spilt.”
Mr Taylor said the legal wrangle over the will had dredged up painful memories for him about his relationship with his father, with whom he lived and looked after for the last 12 years of his life.
He added that although the will ensured a roof over his head, he found it insulting and the “insult was compounded by the fact that his grandchildren were neglected. And these Pearman people didn’t do anything. They weren’t there — not so much as a cup of tea”.
He said: “I wasn’t expecting anything from Howard because, first of all, I’m gay and, secondly, I am not accomplished. He was very judgmental and as flawed as he was, he was just as judgmental.
“Elaine was hard done by ... We all got screwed. There was enough property for us all to get a piece of it and there was a lot of property.”
Ms Charles claimed her father took steps to convey Fubler Villa to her in 1995 so it could pass to his grandsons, but she asked him to hold off because she was involved in a divorce and did not want to complicate the proceedings.
She said her father’s mental state deteriorated in 1997, although dementia was never diagnosed, and she did not raise the issue of the house with him again because she believed he was no longer capable of making a will.
Ms Charles said on May 29: “He loved his grandchildren. He always spoke to me about leaving a legacy for his grandchildren.”
The Royal Gazette reported in March that Ms Charles faced losing everything she owned after lawyers involved in the long-running court case won costs against her, likely to be about $500,000.
She has filed a fresh affidavit with the court alongside her brother’s in a bid to prevent a property belonging to her from being sold to pay for the debts.
Her affidavit asked for documents earlier dismissed by the court to be reconsidered.
The documents include two affidavits from former deputy premier Clarence James, a friend and Masonic colleague of her father’s, which Ms Charles said testified to Howard Taylor’s mental incompetence in 2002.
Ms Charles added she was waiting on notification of a new court date and the outcome of complaints made to the Bar Council about several lawyers involved in the case.
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