Image of a wooden house split four ways

Brothers defeat sister in dispute over mother’s £1m will after fourth court appearance

After being left out of their mother’s £1 million will, three brothers have sued their tennis coach sister and won a legal battle which has gone to court four times.

Their mother passed away and left all of her fortune to her daughter in 2019. David, Nino and Remo Rea have been “feuding” with their sister for seven years.

The High Court judge ruled that Rita had “coerced” their mother into cutting her sons out of the will. The decision on the retrial means the estate will be split four ways.

The evidence suggested Rita had exerted “undue influence” over her mother, causing her to be “overborne”, according to Judge David Hodge KC, who overturned the testament and reinstated an earlier will that divided the estate four ways.

He said in his judgement:

“First, there is Anna’s frailty and vulnerability. Wheelchair-bound, hard of hearing, and requiring constant care and attention, Anna’s quality of life was limited.

She seemed to spend much of her life colouring in children’s books. This is to be contrasted with what I find to be Rita’s argumentative and forceful personality, and her forceful physical presence.”

In Anna’s last testament, she declared that Rita, who had moved in to care for her in 2009, deserved to inherit her home because “she has taken care of me all these years”, according to reports. She stated:

“My sons do not help me with care and there has been numerous calls for help from me but they are not engaging with any help or assistance.

My sons have not taken care of me and my daughter Rita has been my sole carer for many years.

Hence should any of my sons challenge my estate, I wish my executors to defend any such claim as they are not dependent on me and I do not wish for them to share in my estate, save for what I have stated in this will.”

The brothers claimed that the 2015 will was invalid and should be cut out by the judge as Rita had used her influence over the mother to get them out of the will – claiming Rita had an “aggressive and bullying” character.

This resulted in the 1986 will being her final valid testamentary document – splitting her estate equally. Rita told the judge:

“I had no involvement in how my mother distributed her estate and no conversations with my mother about how she changed her will.”

The judge said:

“Anna’s predominant expressed state of mind was a sense of total abandonment by her three sons. I detect in that a sense that Anna was in thrall to her only daughter, and carer.

Rita wished to ensure that those changes (to the 1986 will) should only become known to her brothers after Anna’s death because that would make it more difficult for them to challenge the 2015 will.

The terms of the 2015 will… effected a major change in Anna’s testamentary wishes from her previous will, which had stood for nearly 30 years, by substantially disinheriting all of Anna’s three sons, leaving the only substantial asset in Anna’s estate to her daughter.

The final sentence, purporting to express Anna’s wish that, should her sons advance any challenge to the distribution of Anna’s estate, her executors were to defend any such claim ‘as they are not dependent on me and I do not wish for them to share in my estate’ is not language that I consider that Anna would ever have used: rather it is Rita speaking through Anna.”

The judge said Anna’s “vulnerability” was completely in contrast with Rita, who he said had an “argumentative and forceful personality” and a “forceful physical presence”. He said:

“When viewed in combination, in my judgment these factors all point inexorably to the conclusion that Rita had pressured Anna into making a new will, leaving the house to Rita, not by convincing her mother that this was the right thing to do, but by applying some form of improper influence over her to procure the testamentary gift of the house in her favour, cutting out the sons who had stood to share equally in the estate for almost 30 years.”

He rejected the allegation that Rita committed fraud in relation to the will. He said:

“This is not, in my judgment, a case of fraudulent calumny.”

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