Cornwall millionaire war hero’s dying wish granted by High Court after costly two year legal wrangle

Tue 22nd Nov 2011

Head of disputes at Coodes, Colin Hunter acted for the Higham family.

A MUCH loved North Cornwall character who left a £7m fortune has had his dying wish of having military bands play in the town where he grew up granted after a two year legal wrangle.

World War II Lancaster bomber pilot William “Billy” Higham, a well known figure in St Mawgan near Newquay where he lived for many years, died aged 91 in 2008.

The millionaire businessman was childless and bequeathed £2m of his fortune to ensure military bands played on the bandstand in a Wigan park near where he grew up.

Billy Higham – who flew Lancaster bombers and Mosquito fighter-bombers during the war – cherished childhood memories of the military bands playing on the Victorian bandstand in Mesnes Park near his home.

His riches were to be distributed between relatives and a charity, the Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust, that runs the park.

But his will was homemade and caused so much legal confusion it led to costly and drawn out legal proceedings involving 20 interested parties which ended with the High Court finally agreeing the payout this week.

The Judge, Mr Justice Mann has now ruled the bands will play as the war hero turned canny businessman would have wished.

He said: “The will was homemade, without the assistance of solicitors. The result demonstrates what a bad idea it is for a layman to do that, and has led to the expenditure of considerable costs.”

Colin Hunter, of Coodes Solicitors in St Austell, who acted for members of Mr Higham’s family in their efforts to have his wishes clarified and carried out, said that, because the will was homemade and incomprehensible on a legal level, the costs of clarifying it through the court unfortunately ran into many thousands of pounds.

Mr Hunter, an inheritance dispute specialist, said: “The need to use the Court to clarify the homemade will also caused the family a great deal of stress and upset and delayed the administration of the late Mr Higham’s Estate, which is something every family wishes to avoid.”

Mr Higham and his brothers had grown up near to Mesnes Park, and during this time they regularly heard military bands play there on Sundays. It was his dream to be able to fund the return of bands to entertain the public.

After flyingLancasterbombers at the start of the war, Mr Higham later flew the aptly named “wooden wonder” Mosquito in an elite Pathfinder Squadron marking targets inGermanyfor following bomber crews.

Coming out of the airforce, he built up his parent’s florist business inWigan, then retired to St Mawgan where he died in 2008. Marjorie, his wife of almost 70 years, also known as Bunty, died just a year later.

The High Court heard Billy Higham was “a man of extraordinary energy and ability who was decisive in business affairs and who built up a fortune of some £7 million from a negligible start”

But though decisive in business the war hero had struggled to decide how to divide his wealth and left a homemade will that was legally unclear and “difficult to follow.”

That left the family and the charity unclear about exactly what was expected in terms of military band concerts.

The court heard Mr Higham’s family weren’t against the money going to the charity but wanted to make sure the cash was spent exactly how he intended.

Coodes Colin Hunter, who heads up the largest dispute team in Cornwall, said: “Had the late Mr Higham gone to a solicitor and instructed them as to what his wishes were, the sheer heartache, time and cost in this process for the family would have been avoided.

“Homemade wills or wills written by the new rash of Will making companies can cause problems. I have now had a worrying number of cases involving such wills which have required the input of the court to construe them or parts of them.”

“As the Judge said in this case it is a bad idea to try and make your own will. He deliberately mentioned using solicitors for that purpose for a very good reason.

“While it may not be an attractive proposition for many people, solicitors are legally trained, tightly regulated and insured against making mistakes. These safeguards simply do not exist where people take the law into their own hands or instruct will making companies many of whom have no legal training at all.”

If you have an inheritance dispute that you would like to discuss, call 01726 874700 and ask to speak to Colin Hunter

Tue 22nd Nov 2011

Colin Hunter

Partner

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