Barrister son of judge loses court battle with sisters over will

Barrister son of judge dubbed ‘Sid Vicious’ lands himself £350,000 bill after losing battle with his step-sisters over father’s £817,000 estate

  • Michael Templeman, 68, of Woking, Surrey, took sisters to court over father’s will
  • He and brother Peter had initially been left most of their father’s £817,000 estate
  • But Lord Templeman’s stepdaughters were later left a £580,000 home in the will
  • Mr Templeman took Sarah Edworthy, 66, and Jane Goss-Custard, 70, to court
  • The barrister said his father’s dementia was so bad his 2008 will should be void 
  • But a court has now ruled the will is valid and Michael Templeman must pay costs

The barrister son of a millionaire law lord nicknamed ‘Sid Vicious’ has blown his entire inheritance on a losing battle with his step-sisters over his father’s will.

Michael Templeman, 68, went to war with Sarah Edworthy, 66, and Jane Goss-Custard, 70, after his father, Lord Sydney Templeman, left them his £580,000 home in Devon in his will.

Under a previous will, the famously sharp-witted judge – who earned his nickname from wary lawyers on the wrong end of his quick ripostes – had left most of his £817,000 estate to Mr Templeman and his brother Peter, with the sisters getting just £18,000 each.

His death, aged 94 in 2014, sparked a bitter family feud, with Mr Templeman, of Woking, Surrey, claiming twice-widowed Lord Templeman was not in his right mind when he changed his will.

The brilliant-minded judge was suffering from dementia at the time he changed his plans to leave the house to the sisters in 2008 and was so forgetful he could not even use his Sky TV remote control, his son said.

But the High Court has now ruled the will was valid after finding that Lord Templeman wanted the sisters – who were step-daughters of his last wife, Sheila – to get the house, because of his ‘love and affection’ for them.

The will of Lord Sydney Templeman including his £580,000 home in Devon was at the centre of a legal battle after he gave it to his second wife’s stepdaughters instead of his barrister son Michael Templeman, 68, (pictured outside court)

Michael Templeman, 68, went to war with Sarah Edworthy, 66, (left outside court) and Jane Goss-Custard, 70, (right outside court) after his father, Lord Sydney Templeman, left them his £580,000 home in Devon in his will

Ruling against Michael and his wife Lesley, Mr Justice Fancourt also ordered him to pay the costs of the case – which are thought to be up to £350,000, more than three times the windfall of approximately £100,000 he inherited under his father’s will.

The judge said the house, known as Mellowstone, in Exeter, had only come to Lord Templeman from Sheila and he was keen that it reverted back to her family – Ms Edworthy and Ms Goss-Custard – when he died.

‘He had come to love them as if they were his own daughters and they him as if he were a father,’ he told the court.

He added: ‘He left it to them because he felt, emotionally, that that was where Mellowstone belonged.

‘He wanted to pass it back to Sheila’s family because he felt that it properly belonged there.

‘The reason for doing so was the love and affection that he felt in August 2018 for Jane and Sarah.’

The court heard Lord Templeman married his first wife, Margaret Rowles, in 1946 and had two sons, Michael, and the Rev Peter Templeman, who did not contest the validity of the will.

He retired from the House of Lords judicial committee in 1994 and married second wife, Sheila Edworthy, in 1996, treating her stepdaughters, Ms Edworthy and Ms Goss-Custard, as his own.

Mellowstone had been built by Sheila and her first husband, Ms Edworthy and Ms Goss-Custard’s father John Edworthy, in 1974. The sisters described it as their ‘family home’ of over 40 years and Lord Templeman moved in following the marriage.

His own property, Manor Heath, in Woking, Surrey, was sold for £815,000 in 1997 and the proceeds split between him and his two sons.

Sydney Templeman’s razor-sharp intellect earned him the epithet ‘Sid Vicious’ (Sydney Templeman is pictured)

Earlier wills of Lord Templeman divided the vast majority of his fortune between his sons – but he had a change of heart following Sheila’s death in 2008, the court heard.

A new will was drawn up and signed in August 2018, leaving Mellowstone – which he had by then himself inherited from Sheila – to Ms Goss-Custard, 70, of Lympstone, near Exeter, and Ms Edworthy, 66, of Newport, south Wales.

His own sons would split most of what was left, getting about £100,000 each.

Challenging the will, Mr Templeman, 68, – who represented himself – argued that his father did not have sufficient mental capacity to make it at the time and that Ms Edworthy and Ms Goss-Custard should get only the £18,000 apiece they were due under his previous will.

At the time he made the will, he could not use his TV remote control and, despite being financially secure, frequently worried ‘irrationally’ about his income and tax, and carried a sheaf of crib sheets to remind him ‘what not to worry about,’ his son said.

He also appeared to have forgotten that he had already made an amended will in 2004, leaving only £18,000 each to the sisters, with the brothers getting most of an estate valued at £817,000, he claimed.

‘His memory was not working well and he was not thinking clearly,’ Michael told the judge during a hearing in January.

Ms Edworthy and Ms Goss-Custard had already received a major windfall when Sheila passed onto them shares in a ‘very very desirable’ £870,000 waterfront property in Cornwall, he said.

In then going back on that by making the new will in 2008, there was ‘the strongest possible evidence that he had forgotten’ what was agreed, said Mr Templeman.

But the sisters said the retired judge was no more than ‘slightly forgetful’ by the time the will was made, with Mrs Edworthy telling the court: ‘I can understand somebody of 80-odd not being able to use a Sky control.’

Lord Templeman left his £580,000 Exeter home  (pictured) to Sarah Edworthy, 66, and Jane Goss-Custard, 70, the stepdaughters of his second wife, Sheila

Their barrister, Alexander Learmonth, said the scrupulously fair lord’s decision to pass Mellowstone to the sisters was understandable, given it had been ‘their family home.’

‘Lord Templeman was by all accounts – including Mr and Mrs Templeman’s – a man for whom fairness was an important consideration,’ he said.

Mr Templeman had also himself accepted gifts of large sums of money ‘without quibble’ when his father handed out more than £500,000 to members of his family between 2009 and 2011, said the barrister.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Fancourt said that, as well as Mellowstone having been their stepmother Sheila’s originally, the sisters had grown incredibly close to Lord Templeman in the two decades before he died.

‘Contrary to his reputation as an uncompromising judge…Lord Templeman clearly had a very different side to him: a warm, emotionally empathetic and loving side, with devotion to those who loved and cared for him,’ he said.

He added: ‘It is very clear that, in sharing with Jane and Sarah the final years of his life with Sheila, he became very attached to them and was to all intents and purposes part of their family.

‘They helped him to care for Sheila at the end of her life and they helped him to look after his and her affairs before her death and then helped him to cope with his grief.

‘All the evidence suggests that Lord Templeman was at all times a strong and decisive person, as well as someone who was concerned to do the right thing as he understood it to be.

‘I consider that he was making a gift of Mellowstone because that is what he wanted to do.’

The judge said Lord Templeman had had difficulty with his short-term memory at the time he made the will, but his memory of distant events was ‘very good’ and his working memory ‘functional.’

‘In that regard, his considerable pre-morbid intellect assisted him,’ he said.

‘There is no cogent evidence to suggest that Lord Templeman’s mental functioning was impaired in 2008 to any significant degree except in respect of the difficulty the was experiencing with his episodic memory.’

The judge ruled that the 2018 will – leaving Mellowstone to the sisters – was Lord Templeman’s last valid will.

He ordered that Michael pay the sisters’ costs of the case – estimated at about £350,000 – with £200,000 up front pending assessment of the final bill.

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