A judge on Friday (20 November) ended a nine-year dispute between a brother and sister over their parents’ wills and their family home in Islington after deciding that the parents had been subject to undue influence in transferring the family home to their son.
Passing judgment at the Central London County Court, Her Honour Judge Walden-Smith said that whilst the parents had understood what they were doing and there had been no actual undue influence by virtue of coercion or duress, this was a case where there was a relationship of trust and confidence, and the transfer was a transaction which called for explanation. The son had benefitted from the transfer to the detriment of his parents.
Chun Wong, head of Dispute Resolution at Hodge Jones & Allen, acting for Anna Aresti (69 years old) in the case against her brother Harry Kousouros (83 years old), said: “My client has only ever wanted to see her what she believed to be her parents’ wishes met and that was to have their estate shared equally between their two children. Mrs Aresti is relieved that this long-standing matter has reached conclusion, and that she and her brother can now move on with their lives.
“It has not been an easy battle for her; a widow in her late 60s, with limited means, conducting this litigation from Cyprus and having been excluded from her family home following her father’s death. Her parents passed away over eight years ago and proceedings have been ongoing since 2012.”
Mrs Aresti had claimed that her brother Harry Kousouros had pressured his parents – George and Aglaia Kousouros – into moving out of their family home in Islington in 2001 and into residential care in Cyprus, where they were originally from, because it was cheaper.
She said her parents had at the same time unwittingly signed a Land Registry form transferring ownership of the house, believing it simply allowed Harry to manage and let the property in their absence. She argued that the evidence from subsequent wills was that her parents still believed they owned the property, and that their intention was to split it equally between the two children upon their deaths.
Aglaia died in December 2003 and Harry in March 2007. Harry claimed that his parents had transferred the property’s legal title to him in 2001, producing the unregistered and undated Land Registry form. Harry also argued that a £50,000 payment he had made to Mrs Aresti in June 2001 was for her share in the property. She told the court that she believed it was a payment in advance of maintenance that her parents had been sending to her from the rental income from the property, because she was in financial difficulties at the time as a widow with two small children.
Chun Wong said: “Cases like these are important to protect people who are vulnerable or in vulnerable positions. It is in the public interest that special safeguards are in place in these circumstances to avoid undue influence, whether actual or presumed, especially where large sums of money are at stake. The court is not afraid to use its discretion to set aside bargains which are detrimental and disadvantageous, even if made of free will, and this should be a lesson to those in positions of trust.”
“This case highlights the need to seek professional, independent advice when it comes to life planning decisions. Sadly, the courts hear numerous probate disputes, many of which could be avoided if people seek the right advice and, more importantly, ensure that everything is well documented.”
Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen was founded in 1977 in Camden and has over 220 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm’s team of specialists includes – Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Diseases, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Property Disputes, Employment, Family Law, Wills & Probate, Military Claims, Serious Fraud and Social Housing.