Galway will dispute settled with man convicted of fraud to get half of estate with rest divided among over 40 cousins’ children

The Four Courts. Photo: Getty

Aodhan O'Faolain

A High Court dispute over the purported will of a deceased Co Galway farmer has been settled.

As part of the settlement the parties agreed that half of the late Margaret Hernon's estate is to go the main beneficiary of a will made in 2006, Peter O'Toole, who is a son of one of the deceased's first cousins.

The remaining half of the estate is to be divided among over 40 other children of Mrs Hernon's first cousins, one of whom Agustus 'Gus' Kelehan had challenged the validity of the 2006 document and had asked the High Court to set it aside.

The late Mrs Hernon left a valuable estate which includes a farmhouse where she resided at Barnacranny, Bushypark, Galway, with adjoining 13 acres of farmland on the edge of Galway city, lands in Athenry Co Galway, and a significant quantity of cash.

During the proceedings the court heard that the estate's value was not agreed by the parties, but had been estimated as being worth between €2.5m and €9m.

Mrs Hernon and her late husband Frank, who predeceased her, had no children and she was an only child. Her nearest living relations are the children of her first cousins.

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It had been initially believed that when she died aged 91 years on March 16, 2017, she had not made a will.

However, several months after her death a will, purportedly executed in 2006 by Mrs Hernon before a now retired solicitor Liam O'Gallchobhair of Highfield Park, Galway, surfaced.

In that document a sum of €22,000 was left to a few friends and relatives of Mrs Hernon, and to the local Catholic Church she regularly attended.

In his action against Mr O'Gallchobhair, in his capacity of the purported executor of the 2006 will, Mr Kelehan claimed that the 2006 will had been obtained by deceit and should be set aside.

It was claimed that Mrs Hernon did not like Mr O'Toole, who they court heard has been convicted of offences including fraud and is currently under investigation by the gardaí for other matters.

It was alleged that Mr O'Gallchobhair was not the late Mrs Hernon's solicitor, did not know him, and that he was a close associate of Mr O'Toole, of Leagaun, Moycullen, Co Galway.

The claims were denied.

The court heard that Mr O'Gallchobhair rejected any wrongdoing, or that he had conspired with Mr O'Toole, who he had accepted he had represented, in regard to the 2006 will.

He said that he knew the deceased for many years before she came to his office about making a will. It was claimed she went to him for privacy reasons.

Mr O'Toole, who was not a party to the action, had also denied any wrongdoing.

He had claimed to have known Mrs Hernon for many years, that they got on well together and shared a common interest in farming.

The case opened before Mr Justice Cian Ferriter last week.

On Tuesday, when the court was due to commence hearing evidence from witnesses for the defence, including Mr O'Gallchobhair and Mr O'Toole, the parties entered into settlement talks.

On Tuesday evening David Kennedy SC, appearing with Paddy McCarthy Sc, Conor Cahill Bl instructed by Patrick Higgins of Keane's solicitors, for Mr Kelehan said what had been "a most difficult and complicated case" had been resolved between the parties, who had "justifiably held very strong views" on the matter.

Michael Hourican SC, with Vinog Faughnan SC, and Laurance Masterson Bl instructed by solicitor Shane O'Dowd Solicitors, for Mr O'Gallchobhair, said his client was consenting to the settlement agreement.

The court heard that as part of the agreement, half of the estate is to go to Mr O'Toole. The other half will be divided among the 40 or so cousins of the late Mrs Hernon, excluding Mr O'Toole.

Mr Kelehan was also appointed as the representative of Mrs Hernon's next of kin.

It was also agreed that the 2006 document is not to be formally proven.

The estate will be administered by the respective parties' solicitors.

The other beneficiaries of the purported 2006 will are also to retain the sums of cash left to them.

It was further agreed that both sides’ legal costs of the proceedings are to come from the estate.

The settlement was welcomed by Mr Justice Ferriter, who had encouraged the parties to try to resolve what was a difficult dispute among themselves, rather than let the court decide on the fate of the 2006 will.

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