Notwithstanding her formal adoption as a child, a war veteran’s natural daughter has triumphed in her fight for possession of his £250,000 home despite arguments put forward by a genealogist and so-called ‘heir hunter’ that the property should be inherited by his long lost brother and other relatives.
The home owner died at the age of 83 without leaving a Will. Government lawyers subsequently advertised for potential claimants to his estate and an heir hunter successfully tracked down his brother and other surviving relatives in the country of his birth, Ukraine. Acting under a retainer, he obtained a power of attorney from the brother and was granted letters of administration.
The home owner’s natural daughter had been formally adopted as a 13-year-old girl by family friends and thus could not inherit as her father’s next of kin. However, she insisted that that she was entitled to her father’s home because he had handed her the keys and deeds, along with his war medals, shortly before his death and had said that he wanted her to have the house when he died.
The daughter – who kept in touch with her birth father over the years, visiting him occasionally and exchanging greetings cards with him – convinced a county court judge that he had gifted the house to her in contemplation of his impending death and that the property therefore fell outside his estate. The heir hunter appealed but the High Court agreed that the home owner’s spontaneous and unsolicited act in handing the keys and deeds to his natural daughter amounted to a ’sufficient delivery of dominion’ over the property to amount to a valid gift.
Elisabeth Pollard, a Partner at Shentons in Winchester, comments ‘This case clearly illustrates the pitfalls of not making a will. Many people believe that their estate will automatically pass in full to their spouse or their children when they die; this is simply not the case. By drawing up a Will, the distress caused to those left behind such as the daughter in this case can be minimised and you can ensure that your wishes will be carried out.‘