Family at war in the High Court over £1.5m fortune of New Forest judge

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The late Jim Burgess was a renowned solicitor and judge from New Milton

THE children of renowned former New Milton solicitor and judge Jim Burgess have taken their fight to the High Court over a £1.5m fortune left by their late mother.

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Former British Airways pilot Chris Burgess is contesting a claim by his sisters Jennifer Penny (55) and Catherine Kennard (69) that he should get much less because he is wealthier than them.

Catherine Kennard (Photo: Champion News Service Ltd)

Mr Burgess, who was a solicitor for New Milton law firm Heppenstalls for more than 40 years, died in 2012 aged 88. He left his estate to his wife Freda who died four years later.

She made a will which reflected his wishes that the two daughters should receive 40% each and Chris 20% to make up for the disparity in their respective lifestyles.

Jennifer Penney (Photo: Copyright Champion News Service Ltd)

However, the will was redrafted before Freda’s death and now states all three should get an equal share.

The High Court heard the sisters claim their mother did not know and approve of the 2013 will’s contents, suggesting she was frail and vulnerable due to a fall nine days before it was signed. Nor was her last will properly witnessed, they add, in their challenge to its validity.

The sisters’ barrister, Katherine McQuail, told the court it “should not be satisfied that Freda knew and approved the contents of the 2013 will”.

This was due to the fall, the absence of independent advice, and “the lack of any family-wide discussion either before or after the 2013 will was purportedly executed”, she said.

But Chris (65) insisted he and his sisters had always expected to be treated equally when their parents died. He denied he ever “wanted to be in charge” of his mother’s finances or become “head of the family” after Jim’s death.

Chris Burgess with his Brazilian wife Cleide outside the High Court (Photo: Champion News Service Ltd)

In court Chris explained he handled his father’s will after his death and helped his mother with her affairs because she had no one else to turn to.

“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’,” he said.

“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.”

His barrister, Thomas Dumont, noted the sisters’ claims that their mother was “vulnerable in early January” due to tripping and falling.

But Chris and his counsellor wife, Cleide, had “rallied round” to care for Freda after her slip, and the couple were convinced she was still clear in her mind, the court heard.

Cleide Burgess, who met Chris while working as BA cabin crew, told the court her husband had done his best to care for his mother and to bring the family together.

Adding to that, Mr Dumont described the ex-pilot as a “palpably honest and generous individual who did his utmost to provide his mother with comfort and support when she needed it”.

The fall, although a shock to Freda, “did not affect her capacity,” said Mr Dumont.

Freda was always a woman who knew her own mind, he added, and she remained “determined” and independent-minded even after her accident.

There was never any question of Chris suggesting that his mother should change her will, the court was told.

“He was surprised by his mother’s desire to change her will, but it was her idea and he had never raised it with her,” said Mr Dumont.

Nor had either of the two sisters objected to the idea of an equal split, he claimed out.

Judge Catherine Newman QC has reserved her decision in the case to a later date.

Jim Burgess was popular solicitor

Jim Burgess was well-known as a genial character in New Milton during his long legal career which ended when he retired in 1989, having specialised in family law and youth crime. He belonged to a number of local organisations including the Round Table and the 41 Club.

His interest in the law was piqued when he studied as a young man at Manchester Grammar School. On leaving he worked for a law firm in the city before being called up for service in the Royal Marines.

To put his legal experience to good use, the forces posted Jim to Admiralty Arch in Pall Mall, assisting with courts martial.

He was then introduced to Freda – who was the sister of his best friend Mervin Algar. Romance blossomed and the pair married when they were both 21 in a church just outside Swindon.

In his later career he was one of the first lawyers to take on the often thankless task of duty solicitor, which frequently involved late night trips to police stations across the area.

Jim spent a spell as chairman of the Social Services Tribunal in Bournemouth and was involved for many years with the Bournemouth and District Law Society, serving as its president in 1976.

A year before that he had been honoured to become one of the first deputy recorders in England, initially covering judges’ holidays and time off.

After his retirement from Heppenstalls he became a full-time recorder on the Western Circuit of the county court – famously staying overnight before cases in his campervan.

His obituary in the A&T recalled Jim’s love of travelling and experiencing different cultures, and he and Freda’s happy summer breaks making their way through Europe in their campervan and holidays to Australia, Brazil and Florida.

Jim adored and delighted in his children and was very proud when Chris qualified as a captain with British Airways, Cathy graduated from Canterbury University as a teacher and his grandson, Edward, began a law degree at Southampton University.

A fortnight before his death, Jim was thrilled to see daughter-in-law Cleide graduate at the Barbican after completing a degree in psychology.

Family celebrations and gatherings were “large and frequent”, including a party to celebrate Jim and Freda’s 65th wedding anniversary.

In the obituary,  Chris 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.”

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