Nephew wins legal appeal to keep £800,000 farmhouse
An academic whose stolen lawn mower sparked a family feud could be turning in his grave after the nephew he called an "ostenstatious spendthrift" won the right to keep his £800,000 home.
Before he died, aged 90, retired art historian, William "Bill" Taylor, said his nephew Roger Taylor was "the last person" to whom he would leave his Grade II-listed long house, Lower Manaton Farm, in Callington, Cornwall.
The widower wanted to leave £650,000 to charity – but now his wishes have been thwarted by an Appeal Court ruling.
The court held Mr Taylor to a "bargain" he made before he died and declared that his nephew, and his partner, Denise Burkinshaw, were rightful owners of Lower Manaton Farm.
It was the disappearance of Mr Taylor's beloved Etesia lawn mower from an outhouse after his wife's death that made him realise it was not good to be alone and he invited his nephew along with Miss Burkinshaw and their two children to move down from their Sheffield home to live with him.
The couple set up home in the farmhouse's east wing, while Mr Taylor stayed in the west. But before Mr Taylor died in 2010, they were facing each other in the courts.
The nephew and his family were adamant that Mr Taylor had promised to leave them his home in return for uprooting themselves from their terraced home in Sheffield and moving south to give him companionship and care.
However, the pensioner insisted the only deal he ever struck with the couple was that they could live in the house rent-free if they contributed towards the bills.
In August last year, a year after Mr Taylor died, Judge Jeremy Griggs accepted the couple's plea that a "bargain" had been struck by the old man and awarded them the whole of Lower Manaton Farm, subject to inheritance tax.
Judge Griggs' ruling came under fire at the Court of Appeal where the executors of Mr Taylor's estate – including his niece Gabrielle Bradbury and her husband Peter – argued that the judge had been too generous to Roger Taylor and Miss Burkinshaw.
Leslie Blohm QC, for the executors, said the relationship between Bill Taylor and his nephew was "not easy" even before the widower decided to share his home.
Mr Taylor had, in the 1960s, "bankrupted" his nephew over an unpaid loan and the evidence was that he regarded the younger man as "a spendthrift, ostentatious and a risky proposition".
The court heard trouble brewed in 2009 when the couple discovered Mr Taylor had no intention of leaving them the house.
They went to court, claiming the old man had promised it to them, although he "vehemently denied" ever having done anything of the sort.
The court heard that the couple had helped the old man empty his bins, get his car in and out of his garage and put his laundry in the washing machine and, although that "did not amount to a great deal", the judge said it sealed the "bargain" they had reached with Mr Taylor.
In his final will, signed in 2009, Mr Taylor tried to leave £650,000 – more than half his estate – to charity.
He directed that the rest of his estate be split into 100 equal parts, with 55 of them going to his great granddaughter, Ms Constantine, 15 of them to Mr and Mrs Bradbury and the remaining 30 to Roger Taylor and Miss Burkinshaw – but only on condition that they moved out of the house within six months of his death.
However, the pensioner's best laid plans were defeated by Judge Griggs' ruling, with the asset that made up almost 80% of his estate going to the couple with whom he was engaged in bitter legal dispute until he died.
Dismissing the executors' appeal yesterday, Lord Justice Lloyd, sitting with Lords Justice Richards and Elias, upheld Judge Griggs' decision that Mr Taylor had made a binding promise that his nephew and Miss Burkinshaw would inherit his home and could not go back on that.
The couple had acted "to their detriment" in moving down from Sheffield to give Mr Taylor company and care and were entitled to hold him to his word, the court ruled.