Farming family ‘divided’ after dementia father’s land transfers to sons

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A Co Down farmer who suffered from dementia lacked the necessary capacity to transfer land and property to two of his sons before his death, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Horner granted a legal bid by John Connelly’s widow, Maura, to set aside the moves after describing them as “a family divided”.

He held that no explanation had been offered for why the farmer would have left his wife with nothing.

The verdict was delivered after Mrs Connelly passed away herself following a serious stroke.

She had issued proceedings in a bid to overturn two transfers of land by her late husband, dating back to 2008 when he was well into his 80s.

The allocations were to two of their seven children – Gerard, who emigrated to the United States years ago, and Patrick, who runs a taxi firm.

The transfers were not subject to any right of residence in favour of Mrs Connelly.

She argued that her husband lacked capacity to make the gifts of land.

But the two sons insisted their father acted of his own free will, without any unconscionable conduct on their behalf.

Both argued that they had been promised the lands by him in the late 1990s.

The court heard Mr and Mrs Connelly moved into a small cottage on his land following their marriage in 1956.

She supplemented income from the farm by rearing hens and selling eggs in the local market.

According to her case she was the driving force behind the enlargement and modernisation of their home, paying for bathroom and kitchen renovations, and putting in new carpets, bedding, CCTV and a security system.

Mr Connelly was said to have suffered from dementia immediately prior to his death.

The judge had to determine why he would dispose of land and leave his widow with no visible means of support should he die before her.

He made no finding on allegations of undue influence.

However, Mr Justice Horner ruled that the farmer did not have the capacity to gift the lands in either 2008 or a potentially earlier date in 2005.

Setting aside the moves, he said: “Such transfers of land by the deceased, leaving the plaintiff with nothing, were to his and his wife’s obvious and manifest disadvantage.

“No explanation has been offered as to why the deceased would do such a thing to his wife.”