An elderly widow who transferred half her home and all of its surrounding land to a business partner with whom she subsequently fell out has found out the hard way that there is little point taking legal advice if you do not follow it. As a result of signing documents against a solicitor’s advice, the 85-year-old and her ex-partner had ended up living on opposite sides of a dividing wall in a rural barn conversion.
The pensioner had in 2001 been the sole owner of the barn and 11 surrounding acres of paddock and woodland. However, by 2005, she had transferred the barn into the joint names of herself and her business partner. All the land had also been placed in his name and, since 2008, they had lived cheek by jowl, the widow inhabiting the south part of the barn and her by then ex-partner the north.
Pointing to her dyslexia, her health problems and the financial pressure that she was under at the time, the widow accused her partner of ‘bullying and aggressive behaviour’ and claimed that she had signed the transfers under his ‘undue influence’. Asking the High Court to set aside the transactions, she also alleged that he had placed her under ‘extreme pressure’ to resign from the partnership in 2005.
However, in dismissing the pensioner’s claim, the Court rejected her bullying claims as inconsistent and uncorroborated and found that she had willingly entered into the business relationship. Her partner had assisted her in her goat husbandry business and had ploughed tens of thousands of pounds from his savings into converting the barn as well as paying £6,000 to settle a boundary dispute with neighbours.
Noting that the partnership was a ‘sensible commercial relationship’, the Court found that the widow had been in full control of her financial affairs at the relevant time and that her partner had not subjected her to undue pressure. A solicitor, described by the Court as an ‘impressive witness’, had counselled her not to transfer the land into her partner’s name, but she had proceeded nevertheless. The Court was satisfied that she had given the matter ‘full, free and informed thought’ before signing the documents and that she had retired from the partnership in January 2005.