Estranged son awarded €225,000 from birth mother’s estate
A man who believes he was born in a mother and baby home has been awarded €225,000 out of the estate of his estranged birth mother.
The woman did not include the man – her only child – in her will. The retired man, who is in his 60s, applied to the High Court under section 117 of the Succession Act seeking proper provision out of his late mother’s estate.
His case was against his mother’s niece in her capacity as executrix of the estate. Section 117 asks the court to look at how a testator ought to have provided for his or her child in a will.
In a judgment, Ms Justice Siobhán Stack ruled that the plaintiff had discharged the high onus on him, required by section 117, to demonstrate that his mother had failed in her moral duty to make proper provision to him in her will.
The judge said it was undisputed that the deceased never made any provision for the man during her lifetime. However, she noted that, although the deceased did not welcome her son into her life when he was an adult, his evidence nevertheless presented a “poignant image” of the woman.
She had travelled to his football games when he played nearby as a child. At the time he had noticed her, but he did not know who she was.
Ms Justice Stack said the court empathises with the man’s feelings, but “equally must bear in mind that it has no direct evidence of his mother’s experiences and the pressures on her” and it cannot stand in judgment on her.
The woman died in 2015 at an advanced age. The judge noted that the woman, with no surviving spouse or other children, had no moral duty to anyone other than the plaintiff at the time of her death.
Home and farmland
In her will, made in 2004, the woman left her home and 70 acres of farmland to her nephew, the contents of the house to her niece (the defendant) and several thousand euro to another niece and a friend. She also left €300 to the local curate for saying of Masses.
The judge was informed that the current net value of the woman’s estate is some €779,000. The woman’s niece said her aunt had lived a frugal lifestyle. Bank statements showed she did not have a large income, the judge said, noting that her savings reflected a conservative approach to money and lifestyle.
In the proceedings, the plaintiff emphasised his upbringing and the fact his mother and her family never provided for him at any time during his life, said the judge. His mother was unmarried when she gave birth to him in a “very different Ireland” in the 1950s, while his father died shortly before his birth.
The man was loved and cared for by the family who raised him, although they were not people of means, the judge noted. There had been no formal adoption process and the plaintiff was “significantly distressed” by the defendant’s insistence that he supply DNA evidence of his relationship to the deceased, which he did.
Ms Justice Stack accepted his evidence that it was well known in the deceased’s family that he was the woman’s son.
The man first met his mother properly when he was in his 20s but the relationship deteriorated, causing “great unhappiness and upset” to him, said Ms Justice Stack.
The judge said the plaintiff took early retirement and is currently in receipt of a weekly pension of €314. She noted that the man and his wife have significant assets, including a home they own outright and another home in the wife’s name that they rent out, but they have a modest income.
Ms Justice Stack found that, given the absence of any competing moral claim and her intention to leave considerable assets to a series of nieces and nephews, the woman ought to have provided for the plaintiff in her will.
The judge ruled that a lump sum of €225,000 should be awarded to the plaintiff charged on the estate’s agricultural lands. She said recourse should not be had to the smaller bequests in the will.