23rd September 2013
A woman who accused her late father’s “traditionalist” family of conspiring to cut her out of a £500,000 inheritance because she was born out of wedlock has failed in her legal challenge.
Chloe Brennan, 40, insisted that her father’s siblings had “never liked her and didn’t want to know her” because he and her mother, whom he met during his “hippy” days, were not married when she was born.
She claimed they felt her existence had “brought shame on the family”.
Mrs Brennan, the only child of her half-French father, François Devillebichot, made accusations of fraud and forgery and insisted that he had been pressured into signing a death-bed will.
She said she had been left only £100,000 from his £630,000 estate when she would otherwise have got everything.
However, Judge Mark Herbert QC ruled in the High Court yesterday that Mrs Brennan’s father had not been subjected to any “undue influence” when he signed the will two weeks before his death from throat cancer two years ago, despite the “colossal distrust” that blighted the family.
The mother-of-two from Reading had told the court that her father “treated her like a princess” and promised her she would have no money worries after he died.
However, when Mr Devillebichot succumbed to cancer in March 2011, aged 65, the will was produced leaving the bulk of his fortune, including his home in Harrow, north-west London, and a flat in Cannes, to his three sisters, Anne, Lucile and Jackie, and his brother, Philippe.
The court heard that Mrs Brennan’s grandfather, Georges Devillebichot, was a senior French diplomat to the British government who settled in London and married an English woman, setting up home in Knightsbridge to raise their five children.
Mrs Brennan claimed that this upbringing led to her aunts and uncle developing feelings of “unfounded hostility” when she was born illegitimate to Mr Devillebichot and her mother, Vivienne Adaway, in 1972.
She said the family had always refused to accept her as one of their own.
The court heard that, after her father’s death, Mrs Brennan, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has had surgery for cervical cancer, had to undergo DNA testing and obtain a court order to prove her paternity.
Claiming that her father promised to leave her everything on her wedding day, she accused Jackie, who died shortly before the court hearing, and Anne, who is in her sixties, as well as the will’s executors, of being “part of a conspiracy to fraudulently propound an invalid will”.
Speaking of the hostility within the family, Judge Herbert said the siblings did not initially tell Mrs Brennan of her father’s failing health, or even his whereabouts, although they said that was at his request.
There was “no affection” between Mrs Brennan and her aunts and uncle, and they only told her that her father was in hospital after he signed the disputed will, and did not inform her of its contents until after he died.
The judge acknowledged that suspicions were raised over the document by the absence of legal advice and because the will was “encouraged and drawn up by members of the family who stand to benefit under it”.
However, dismissing Mrs Brennan’s challenge, the judge said her accusations of dishonesty were not backed up by evidence and, despite her suspicions, she had failed to undermine the validity of the will, which had been executed according to law.
Mr Devillebichot had been “generous” to his daughter during his lifetime and there was nothing “intrinsically irrational” about his bequests, the judge said, adding that he had endured “divided loyalties all his adult life, and recognised them at the last”.