Former British Airways pilot Chris Burgess, pictured at a previous court hearing with wife Cleide, has won a £500,000 share of his mother's
Former British Airways pilot Chris Burgess, pictured at a previous court hearing with wife Cleide, has won a £500,000 share of his mother’s £1.5million will
A wealthy former British Airways pilot who went to war with his two poorer sisters over their ‘generous and amazing’ mother’s £1.5million will has today won an equal share of the fortune.
Retired captain Chris Burgess, 65, had initially been left only £300,000 of his parents’ cash in both their wills after being told that his sisters needed it more.
But after his lawyer and judge father Jim died in October 2012, his mother Freda changed her will in January 2013 to split everything equally between him and daughters Jennifer Penny, 69, and Catherine Kennard, 55, a teacher.
The move sparked a bitter court battle after his sisters claimed their mother – aged 90 in February 2016 – was too ‘frail and vulnerable’ to change the will and that they needed the cash more than their brother.
But High Court Judge Catherine Newman QC ruled all three should be given an equal share because their mother’s desire was to see her ‘children benefited equally’.
She told the court: ‘It was her [Mrs Burgess] own wish to leave her property equally to her three children.’
During a trial in February, the judge heard that Jim Burgess believed his son was better off than his daughters.
Jim Burgess worked as a solicitor for 40 years and also became a judge. He and his wife made the most of their retirement, enjoying camper van trips around Europe as well as holidays to the US and Brazil, while they also had ‘large and frequent’ family celebrations.
He had forged a career as a pilot, during which he met his Brazilian wife, Cleide, when she worked as BA cabin crew. She is now a counsellor after completing a degree in psychology.
Jim and Freda, from New Milton, Hampshire, initially had ‘mirror wills’, leaving their fortunes to each other and to their children equally if both died.
Mr Burgess had been locked in a battle with his sisters Jennifer Penny, 69, right, and Catherine Kennard, 55, left, who claimed he did not need the money and said their mother Freda’s previous will which left him £300,000 should stand
Mr Burgess, pictured with his former cabin crew wife on holiday, told the court he had cared for his mother in her last days and moved her into his home
However, in 2012 that was changed to give the pilot, of East Molesey, Surrey, a 20 per cent share and his sisters 40 per cent each.
The court heard his father told him about the change at a football match, explaining that ‘Cathy and Jennie were not as secure financially as Chris’.
Mrs Burgess then decided to change the will following her husband’s death and wanted it ‘done quickly’ after she suffered a bad fall in January 2013.
Her son shredded her previous will at her request.
Judge Newman said Chris was a ‘loving son’ who had cared for his mother in her last days, moving her into his home, while his wife Cleide was also ‘loving and devoted to Freda’.
The judge added: ‘She willingly supported Chris spending a lot of time with his widowed mother, even at the expense of their own family life.’
The court heard Mrs Burgess changed her will following the death of her husband Jim aged 88 in 2012, so that all her children would benefit equally. Pictured are Mr Burgess and his wife on holiday
The case reached court as Mrs Penny and Mrs Kennard disputed the validity of the 2013 will.
They said they were happy with being treated ‘equally’, provided it was ‘done properly’.
Their father Jim Burgess, pictured, who worked as a solicitor and judge, had initially made a will leaving his son £300,000 because he was ‘already wealthy’
Challenging the 2013 will, they said it had not been properly witnessed and that the 2012 document should stand as Mrs Burgess’s final will.
That would see them inherit about £600,000 each, with Mr Burgess getting £300,000 – instead of equal £500,000 shares.
Ruling on the case, Judge Newman accepted that the 2013 will was not valid, since one of its witnesses did not see Mrs Burgess sign it.
However, she said its contents were exactly what she had wanted and that she had genuinely ‘revoked’ the unequal 2012 will by having it shredded.
Judge Newman said: ‘Freda did feel unhappy about the unequal division of the estate, and did decide to change the provisions of her will back to equality.
‘After her fall, this became something she wanted dealt with quickly.
‘Although physically frail at this time and temporarily less robust psychologically than before her fall, she was well able to make up her own mind about what she wanted.’
She added: ‘My assessment of Chris is that he would not draw up a will which was not in accordance with his mother’s expressed wishes and that he did not do so.’
How the case unfolded
2012: Jim and Freda Burgess change their wills to give their son Chris 20 per cent of their £1.5million fortune and split the rest 40-40 between their daughters Jennifer Penny and Catherine Kennard.
October 2012: Jim Burgess dies aged 88.
January 2013: Freda changes her mind after suffering a fall and decides to leave equal share of the fortune to her children. She creates a new will and asks Chris to shred 2012 document.
She also moves in with Chris and wife Cleide who care for her.
February 2016: Freda dies aged 90 and the will comes into effect. Her daughters then launch a claim in the High Court claiming the 2013 will should not be recognised because their mother was ‘frail and vulnerable’ when she created it and they should receive 40-40 split under the 2012 will.
February 2019: The case finally reaches the High Court and the daughters argue their brother is already wealthy so does not need the extra money.
June 2019: Judge rules 2013 will was invalid because it was not properly witnessed but divides fortune equally because it was ‘clear that was mother’s final wish’.
The judge’s decision means Freda Burgess died intestate, with her estate to be divided equally between all three children.
Each will receive about £500,000, with the party responsible for paying the costs of the case to be decided at a later date.
Jim Burgess worked as a solicitor for 40 years and also went on to become a judge, specialising in family law and youth crime.
He previously served with the Royal Marines and was posted Admiralty Arch in Pall Mall where he worked on court martials.
Mr Burgess, who spent his career with New Milton law firm Heppenstalls, then enjoyed retirement with his wife, travelling around Europe in a campervan and going on holiday to Australia, Brazil and Florida.
He was described as a proud grandfather who was very pleased to see grandson Edward graduate with a law degree from the University of Southampton.
In an obituary, Chris Burgess said of his father: ‘His only fault was he just couldn’t say no to anyone who needed his help whether it was giving his time, free legal advice to someone in need, or financial help to someone in a difficult situation.
‘He was always there if you asked.’
At the trial earlier this year, the sisters’ barrister, Katherine McQuail, said the court ‘should not be satisfied that Freda knew and approved the contents of the 2013 will’.
This was due to her recent fall, the absence of independent advice, and ‘the lack of any family-wide discussion either before or after the 2013 will was purportedly executed’.
In response, Mr Burgess insisted he and his sisters traditionally expected to be treated equally when their parents died.
At the trial earlier this year, Mr Burgess, pictured with his wife on holiday, denied claims from his sisters that he ‘wanted to be in charge’ of his mother’s finances and become ‘head of the family’
She moved into her son’s home in East Molesey, Surrey, pictured, shortly before her death but her daughters claimed she was ‘too frail’ to understand changing the will
Pictured is Freda Burgess’s home in New Milton, Hampshire, before she passed away
He denied claims from his siblings’ barrister that he ‘wanted to be in charge’ of his mother’s finances or become ‘head of the family’ after the death of their father, who was a family lawyer and judge in Hampshire.
Miss McQuail said: ”You took control, you wanted to be in charge – you wanted your sisters out of it.’
Mr Burgess said he handled his father’s will after his death in 2012, and helped his mother out with their affairs, as he claims the two sisters abandoned their mother.
He said: ‘I asked my older sister if I could talk to her about my mother’s finances but she wrote back and said ‘thank you for all your help’.’
The barrister continued: ‘Your mother reported to her GP that you took over her finances.’
But Mr Burgess told the court: ‘I assisted my mother in everything, I just did whatever she told me and I explained everything I was going to do. I never did anything against her wishes.’