The nephew of a bachelor farmer from West Cork has failed in a legal challenge to the uncle’s will, which left his home and farm to a neighbour.
The High Court examined the contents of a disputed will over entitlement to inherit land owned by John Shannon, of Moulamill, Gortalassa, Bantry, Co Cork, who died on March 23, 2013.
The dead man’s nephew, Andrew Shannon, the executor of his uncle’s estate, challenged the content of the will. It left John Shannon’s house and farm, consisting of two parcels of land and livestock, to his friend and neighbour, Henry Shannon (no relation). The will decreed that any remaining property, or other assets, be left to his nephew.
The dispute centred on the description of leaving a “farm of lands” to Henry Shannon. Andrew Shannon, a farmer and sales representative, claimed it was not his uncle’s intention to leave two parcels of land to his friend.
His lawyers claimed the terms of the will were ambiguous, but that his uncle’s intention was to bequeath his residence to his nephew.
They argued the deceased had no other real property and, therefore, the clause in the will that left other property to his nephew was meaningless, if the intention was to leave both lands to Henry Shannon.
They said various names used to describe the location of the lands added to the ambiguity. Alternatively, they said the will should be declared void, if its interpretation was uncertain.
Solicitor Raymond Hennessy, who drew up the will, said he did not believe it was the deceased’s intention to leave both farmlands to Henry Shannon.
In reply, Henry Shannon maintained there was no ambiguity and that it was well-known in the local area, and wider farming community, that the deceased’s farm consisted of two land parcels, which were operated as one holding.
He claimed there was no need for court intervention to ascertain the intentions of the deceased. His lawyers said no documentary evidence had been produced to suggest there were two distinctive farms.
Mr Justice Michael MacGrath said he was not satisfied that an ambiguity arises on a proper construction of the will as “a piece of English”, or that it purports to describe two separate and distinct pieces of property.
He noted the will stated “farm of lands” and not “farm of land”, which the judge said must mean the lands used for farming by the deceased, comprised of two land parcels. The judge said he could not see how the clause in the will that left any remaining property to the deceased’s nephew gave rise to any ambiguity.
He added: “I also believe that the evidence establishes that the late Mr Shannon farmed the lands as one unit and it is difficult to conclude that there is any ambiguity on the face of the will in this regard.”
The judge ruled the bequest to Henry Shannon related to both pieces of lands.