Helen Shaughnessy, of Hacketstown, Co Carlow, sued Terence Shaughnessy, Seskinryan, Bagenalstown, also Carlow, alleging he breached his duty as executor of the will of their widowed mother, Helen senior, who died in September 2007.
She claimed his failure to take steps to have the will admitted to probate resulted in financial loss because she was unable to avail of stronger property prices soon after the death of her mother and sell a site which had been left to her.
He refused to complete his duty as executor because of reservations he had about his mother’s will, particularly that she had only bequeathed a life interest in the family farm he worked rather than leaving it to him so he could pass it on to his wife or whoever he wished.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the half-acre site left to the sister at Seskinryan was valued at around €90,000 at the time of the mother’s death and, allowing for subsequent property price decreases, the judge estimated it could have been sold within a reasonable period of time after the death for €50,000-€60,000.
He therefore assessed Ms Shaughnessy’s loss at €30,000. He did not accept that certain medical complaints of Ms Shaughnessy could be linked to her brother’s actions.
There had been nothing stopping her from completing the administration of the estate since 2012 when agreement was reached lifting the brother’s legal block on Ms Shaughnessy and her two sisters being executors of the will, he said.
Earlier, the judge said there was no doubt the mother executed “an unusual last will and testament”. She left cash of around €20,000 each to the three daughters as well as a half-acre site for each of them at Seskinryan.
She also left her own home at Seskinryan to the three sisters. Terence Shaughnessy had already built his own home on a site adjoining his mother’s home.
She directed Mr Shaughnessy was to pay €3,500 to Helen Shaughnessy if she married. She left all her stock and machinery to Mr Shaughnessy for his own use. She bequeathed the land and farm buildings to him “for the term of his natural life”.
If he had children, he could pass them on to them. However, if he died without children, the farm was to go to the three sisters and if any of them died, their equal share would go to the other sister(s).
The judge said among the difficulties which arose after he death was that Terence Shaughnessy, having farmed the lands since he was a boy, maintained he had a difficult life and had not got much out of the farm.
He could not understand how his mother could not have simply bequeathed the farm in full to him so he could then pass it on to his wife or someone else, the judge said.
There was a further complication in that there had been no legal arrangement for the transfer of the home he had built at Seskinryan with the result he has no registered title relating to that house where he now lives with his wife.