As the number of step families increase it is not uncommon for disputes to arise on the death of a parent even where a valid will has been made and this can lead to lengthy and expensive disputes over the deceased's estate. In the case of Burnard v Burnard the deceased was a wealthy property tycoon with complex financial affairs. The deceased left a will gifting certain assets to his sons from his first marriage and leaving the residue to his second wife. His second wife brought a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 claiming a greater share of the estate on the basis that the will had not made adequate financial her claim they had to consider three preliminary points. 1) the widow argued that a specific gift of valuable property in the will to the sons was ambiguous and therefore failed and thus the property fell into the residue should pass to the widow. 2) The widow argued that the deceased had in his lifetime made a sham declaration of trust in respect of three properties for the benefit of one of his sons and that these properties should therefore form part of the estate residue. 3) the sons argued that certain shares formed part of a specific gift to them. The widow maintained the deceased had transferred them to her in his lifetime. The widow was successful in arguing 3) but failed on 1) and 2) by which time the estate had incurred substantial costs.
The will of Godfrey ‘Goff’ Burnard has been at the centre of a fierce legal battle ever since his death aged 76 in September 2007.In a plot reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Mr Burnard’s grown-up sons Graham, Paul and Daniel have been at war with their elderly stepmother, Stella, since his death.