Rita Rea was the sole inheritor of her mother’s house after she cared for the elderly woman in her later years
Three brothers who were written out of their mother’s will after their sister was ‘the only one who cared for her in her final years’ have lost their court battle for a share of their mother’s £1million home.
Brothers Remo, Nino and David Rea took their own sister, Rita, to court, claiming she had tricked their mother, Anna, into making her the sole inheritor of her £1million home in Tooting, south London.
Mr Rea, who died aged 86 in July 2016, always had a ‘soft spot’ for her daughter, who was formerly a talented tennis player and cared for her mother during the final years of her life.
In her last will, made in 2015, she left her home – ‘her only effective asset’ – to her daughter alone.
That will replaced an earlier one which shared the estate equally between all four siblings.
Remo, Nino and David subsequently went to the High Court to challenge the will, arguing their sister had ‘poisoned’ their mother’s mind with lies about them before she signed the document.
They wanted Judge Jonathan Arkush to strike out the 2015 will on grounds that it did not reflect their mother’s true wishes, and to reinstate the earlier will from 1986.
But the judge has upheld the 2015 will, saying there was no evidence to support their claims and adding that it was not his job to rule whether the will was ‘fair’, only whether it was valid.
The ruling has left Mrs Rea’s three sons with nothing beyond small legacies which lawyers said would be eaten up by funeral expenses.
Brothers Remo (left), David (right) and Nino took their sister to court, demanding a share of the house, but a judge ruled against them, finding that their sister was entitled to the house
Mrs Rea declared in her December 2015 will: ‘I give my daughter my property absolutely as she has taken care of me for all these years.
‘I declare that my sons do not help with my care and there have been numerous calls from me but they are not engaging with any help or assistance.
‘My sons have not taken care of me and my daughter Rita has been my sole carer for many years.
‘Hence, should any of my sons challenge my estate I wish my executors to defend any such claim, as they are not dependent on me and I do not wish for them to share in my estate, save what I have stated in this will.’
The three brothers claimed their sister had lied to their mother before she died, planting a false idea in her head that they abandoned her care.
But Judge Arkush said the brothers would have had to prove that Rita ‘poisoned her mother’s mind by casting a dishonest aspersion on their characters’.
‘The central problem for the brothers is that there is no evidence that Rita did so,’ he told the court. Their case was based on ‘inference and supposition,’ he added.
Rita Rea moved into her mother’s house in Tooting to look after the elderly woman
Rita, who the court heard was a talented youth tennis player and coach before suffering a major knee injury, moved into her mother’s home in 2009 to help care for her following a heart attack.
By 2013, she was providing extensive daily care for her mother, while her brothers’ care contribution in Mrs Rea’s declining years was by contrast ‘somewhat limited’, the judge noted.
‘From 2012 to 2015, Remo lived in the United States. Even when he returned, in about October 2015, it was some time before he paid a visit to Mrs Rea.
‘Nino’s statement refers to him doing repair jobs at the house over the years, but states that he rarely saw Rita.
‘David was also away for approximately six months a year managing an international motorcycle racing team, but he told me that he was back in England every two or three weeks.’
In September 2015, Nino and David set up a rota to help with their mother’s care, the court heard, but it ‘fell apart’ after only a few weeks.
In her evidence, Rita, 56, claimed her siblings seldom came to visit their mother and she ‘strongly denied’ that she ever put the word ‘abandon’ into her mother’s mouth.
‘Rita stated that her brothers were able to visit Mrs Rea whenever they wanted,’ said Judge Arkush.
‘They had their own keys to the house, at any rate until late 2015 or 2016 when her relationship with them was sufficiently bad that she changed the locks.’
The case came before the High Court in London after the brothers challenged the will
The judge rejected claims of undue influence and ‘fraudulent calumny’ against Rita, also finding that their ‘strong-minded’ mother knew exactly what she was doing when she made her last will.
Although a native Italian speaker, she had sufficient grasp of English to understand the implications of her will.
‘She had reached her own decision on the matter and her mind had not been poisoned by anyone,’ he said.
Mrs Rea’s view of her sons may have been a ‘somewhat harsh judgment’ but it was her own – not her daughter’s, he added.
‘On one level it is understandable that the defendants feel disappointed, upset and resentful that they have not benefited from their mother’s will,’ the judge said.
But he added: ‘In my judgment they have allowed these emotions to override a more considered reflection that Mrs Rea had reason to benefit Rita for all the care that Rita had given her over six years and more as her principal carer.
‘It is not my task to decide whether the 2015 will was justified or fair. I am only required to decide if it is valid.
‘For the reasons set out above I find that it is valid, and that it should be admitted to probate,’ the judge concluded.
In his judgment, the judge said the property had been valued at £750,000 in 2015. Lawyers at the hearing of the case said outside court that it is now worth £1m.