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Inheritance row ends with judge ruling in favour of Canterbury widow

Two "greedy" sons who fought their church-going stepmother over their dad’s £250,000 fortune have had their claims thrown out.

The brothers claimed that Ailsa Williamson Powell, 75, from Littlebourne had persuaded her sick husband David Powell to change his will, reducing the amount he left to them.

When the retired farm manager died aged 84 in 2012 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease, they found their stepmother, who was originally gifted just £2,000, now stood to receive half the inheritance.

Ailsa Williamson Powell whose stepsons fought her in court over her late husband's will
Ailsa Williamson Powell whose stepsons fought her in court over her late husband's will

It sparked a bitter dispute which has now ended in a judge rejecting the sons’ claim - and racked up a £200,000 legal bill.

In his ruling at the Central London County Court, judge Marc Dight said: "She was a devoted wife and did her utmost to look after her ill husband in what were frustrating and difficult circumstances for both of them.

"The evidence from professionals who had dealings with her husband before he died pointed to him having been capable of making a valid will."

Richard and Jonathan Powell, who were Mr Powell’s sons from his first marriage, had claimed that at the time the will was changed, their father’s illness was so advanced that he could not have fully understood what he was doing.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell

But Mrs Williamson Powell, who is a former eye specialist at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, insisted she had not influenced her late husband’s wishes.

She told the judge: "It was nothing to do with me, it was David’s decision. His difficulties were almost entirely physical.

"He was able to concentrate on what he wanted to. He could read his magazines, his papers, and so on. He was perfectly able to understand his own affairs.

"That was one thing he could understand and manage. He managed all the financial affairs for both of us."

Her barrister Mark Dencer called the sons "avaricious" and criticised their decision to fight the "uneconomical" case.

He said there was nothing unusual about a couple’s bond of affection and love increasing over time.

He added: "This is not a case of genuine concerns reasonably maintained, but of attempted self-enrichment should the widow lack the stomach or means to fight."

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell

Financial advisor Richard Powell, 54, from Wandsworth and his brother Jonathan, 55, who lives in America, initially claimed the 2003 will, in which Ailsa would get only £2,000, was his last true will.

However, they dropped the claim as the case neared judgement, instead claiming that the estate should be divided three ways, as per the 2008 will.

Their barrister Noel Dilworth said there were enough odd features about how the 2009 will came into being to make the court "suspicious".

He said: "It was created only 18 months after the previous will, increasing Mrs Williamson Powell’s share for no obvious reason."

He also claimed that a gift of £5,000 gift to a church in the will was also "odd", since Mr Powell was not religious, and it was "no coincidence" that it was Mrs Williamson Powell’s church which would benefit.

Mr Powell made a will shortly after his marriage, leaving the bulk of his estate to his sons, with Ailsa receiving only £2,000.

"It’s plain to me that the deceased did understand entirely what he was doing and that the will did reflect his instructions" - Judge Dight

But he made another in 2008 splitting the estate three ways, and then another in 2009, in which Ailsa got half and his sons a quarter each, after small gifts to a church, a Parkinson’s charity and grandchildren.

Ruling in her favour, Judge Dight said: "The overwhelming impression I form from the evidence is that Mrs Williamson Powell and the deceased were in a loving and caring relationship.

"Most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are physical and so would not have impacted on his understanding.

"He plainly had difficulty in communicating, but the evidence suggests that was physical."

He concluded: "It’s plain to me that the deceased did understand entirely what he was doing and that the will did reflect his instructions.

"The suggestion that he lacked testamentary capacity or didn’t know or approve the contents of the will is entirely without foundation."

Mr Dencer said the legal costs of the case ran to about £200,000 and asked the judge to order the sons to foot the bill.

The case arose simply because the sons did not like their stepmum, he claimed.

But Mr Dilworth said the costs should come out of the estate, as there had been reason to bring the case to court.

The judge will decide whether the sons or estate pay the costs at a later date.

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