A carer who guided the pen of a dying millionaire as he signed over almost half his fortune to her family has been stripped of her windfall by a judge.
Donna Henderson was with retired City banker Marcel Chu when he signed a new will on his death-bed in 2014, handing over almost half of his £1 million estate to her and her children.
However, Mr Chu’s family challenged the validity of the will, saying a document signed six years earlier — before his health declined and Mrs Henderson came into his life — held his true dying wishes.
Mrs Henderson, who was Mr Chu’s carer in the final year of his life, admitted she had “guided his hand” when he signed the new will on May 9, 2014, two days before he died aged 73.
Judge Nigel Price ruled at the High Court on Friday that the document was invalid, and Mr Chu was possibly delirious as well as suffering from memory loss and confusion at the time.
After a handwriting expert found the signature was not Mr Chu’s, the judge stripped Mrs Henderson of 40 per cent of the estate and handed her a legal bill of up to £85,000.
“Expert handwriting evidence was obtained to the effect that the signature, on the balance of probabilities, is not that of Marcel”, said the judge in his ruling. He said someone can help an ailing person when signing a new will, but “the scope of such assistance must be limited.”
“There is a distinction between leading and steadying the hand,” he said.
“The distinction is to be drawn when assistance goes so far as to lead in the formation of the letters.”
Judge Price said due to his litany of health problems, Mr Chu “could not have been in any state to appreciate what he was doing in relation to the execution of this document”.
He added that while Mrs Henderson may have expected to be left something by the former Barclays banker, the “wholesale change in the will ... is surprising in all the circumstances”.
“Marcel’s close family appear to have been kept out of the picture in relation to the writing of the new will and the time of the final illness,” he said. The court heard Mr Chu, who lived in a £700,000 flat in South Woodford, had a close relationship with his brothers Allen and Stanley and his sister Eva Young during his life.
They were made the executors of the 2008 will, and were due to each receive 26 per cent of his estate with the rest divided between a niece and nephew and a close friend.
Mr Chu was struck down with Morvan’s syndrome, a rare auto-immune condition which caused memory loss and confusion, in the final year of his life and was in need of regular care. The court heard this was when Mrs Henderson “took control of his life” and began to exclude his siblings.
Richard Dew, representing Marcel’s brothers and sister, said the new will signing, in hospital, happened when Mr Chu “lacked the capacity” to know what he was doing.
Mrs Henderson had organised and paid for a new will to be drawn up, and she later admitted she had held the pensioner’s hand while he signed it but insisted that she merely “guided his hand” for assistance.
The judge made a costs order against Mrs Henderson, but admitted the Chu family are unlikely to get the money as she is a £60-a-day carer.
Mrs Henderson did not attend the hearing and was not represented in court.