Elderly woman needs to benefit urgently from estranged husband's estate, court hears

A solicitor can go ahead with administering the estate of a deceased man for the benefit of his estranged wife, who is aged in her nineties and has dementia, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Elderly woman needs to benefit urgently from estranged husband's estate, court hears

Ann O'Loughlin

A solicitor can go ahead with administering the estate of a deceased man for the benefit of his estranged wife, who is aged in her nineties and has dementia, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

While the husband left just €1,000 in his will to his estranged wife - a ward of court - she is nonetheless legally entitled to one-third of his estate, Mr Justice Michael Peart noted.

Given the woman's age and condition, it is obvious the task of her obtaining her legal right share during her lifetime "is of the utmost and pressing urgency", she has been without it for eight years now "and time is running out".

On behalf of the three-judge court, he dismissed an appeal by the woman's son against a High Court order appointing a solicitor to extract a grant to the estate pending the determination of Circuit Court proceedings.

Those proceedings seek to have the will of the deceased proven and involve claims by the son that certain lands are wrongly included in his late father's estate.

The son, one of the defendants in the Circuit Court case, claims he owns those lands and also claims his mother had disclaimed any interest in them.

Another High Court judge previously decided the son did not own the lands but he has taken other proceedings to have that decision set aside.

Before the appeal court gave its judgment this week over the appointment of the solicitor to administer the estate, the son asked the court to defer judgment.

He said he was awaiting receipt of formal court orders arising from a COA judgment last month finding his mother had been unlawfully detained by a hospital in July 2016 when she sought to leave.

His mother was made a ward of court a month later and is now in a residential facility for the elderly.

The son claims his mother was unlawfully made a ward of court.

Earlier this month, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who runs the wards of court list, made orders restraining the son, and his sister, visiting their mother after her medical team expressed concerns the visits were distressing and upsetting for her and staff and on occasions involved attempts to administer inappropriate treatment.

On Tuesday, Mr Justice Peart said none of the issues raised by the son relate to the case concerning whether the solicitor can administer the estate of the man's late father and the court would give its judgment.

In that judgment, he noted the application for a solicitor to administer the estate was made by Patricia Hickey, the general solicitor of wards of court, in her capacity as the committee representing the woman's interests.

The woman separated from her late husband, with whom she had three children, almost 20 years ago, he noted.

Under Section 111 of the Succession Act 1965, the woman may choose to take the €1,000 bequest left to her or her legal one-third share of the estate, he said.

If the separate proceedings to have the will solemnly proven fail, with the effect the deceased would have died intestate, the woman would be entitled to two-thirds of the estate, he said. Those proceedings have had "a difficult history" and are holding up administration of the estate, he added.

The woman, given her great age, needs to get access to the estate very urgently and that was why Ms Hickey brought her application, he said.

He agreed with the High Court the necessary special circumstances for such an appointment exist in this case.

He also rejected the son's arguments he should have been appointed administrator and had a right to be heard before Mr Justice Kelly permitted Ms Hickey to apply for appointment of an administrator.

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