|Julie Spalding, who died in September 2008, cut out her relative Cecil Bray in favour of the window cleaner Albert Pearce (pictured) who she named as her soul heir.|
Woman, 98, leaves fortune to window cleaner, not nephew: Julie Spalding, who died in September 2008, cut out her relative Cecil Bray in favour of her window cleaner Albert Pearce. A 98-year-old woman left her entire £300,000 fortune to a window cleaner, sparking a legal challenge by her “favourite nephew”, the High Court has heard. Julie Spalding, who died in September 2008, cut out her relative Cecil Bray in favour of the labourer Albert Pearce, who she named as her soul heir. Mrs Spalding, who was described as "spirited but stubborn", had drawn up previous wills that left the bulk of her estate to Mr Bray, 82, his barrister Constance McDonnell told the court.
The pair had a long-established understanding that he would inherit her fortune, the lawyer said, as Mr Bray had sacrificed much of his free time to "devote himself to her needs". However, in 2005, Mrs Spalding suffered a major personality change after a fall, and "excommunicated Mr Bray from her life" leaving him with no option but to stay away, Miss McDonnell said.
The court heard Mr Bray was given his "marching orders" during a visit to his aunt's home in Hendon, north London, during which he met Mr Pearce for the first and only time. Later that year Mrs Spalding "radically changed her testamentary instructions" by telling her solicitors that she wished to leave her home to Mr Pearce, who she said she had known for 30 years. The court heard Mrs Spalding, who was twice married but childless, was notoriously "obsessed" with her will, and signed three successive documents between 2005 and December 2007 - with Mr Pearce named as"sole beneficiary" in the final one.
The case reached court with Mr Bray challenging the validity of his aunt's last three wills on the grounds that she either lacked legal "capacity" to make them - or that Mr Pearce "procured each of the disputed wills by undue influence". Mrs Spalding's estate consisted of about £60,000 in cash, plus a bungalow in Great North Way, Hendon. Outside court Mr Pearce said he had always done his best to care for Mrs Spalding, who he described as "cantankerous but fun". "I was never interested in her money," he added.
Mr Pearce insisted he had stepped into the breach after Mrs Spalding's family failed to keep in touch with her between 2005 and her death. But Mr Bray said he had visited his aunt up to four times a week before she turned him out in 2005 and had wrongly assumed she would apologise for her outburst. Miss McDonnell said Mrs Spalding was becoming increasingly frail and vulnerable by 2007, with medics having diagnosed a possible "paranoid" condition.
She also said there was "circumstantial evidence" supporting the undue influence claim against Mr Pearce. "He appears to have been the only person who had any kind of regular contact with Mrs Spalding from mid-2005 onwards - to the exclusion of any carers", she argued. "He exhibited a controlling attitude and a desire to exclude external assessment of Mrs Spalding." Judge Murray Rosen QC reserved his ruling at the end of the two-day case.