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 will go the main beneficiary of a will made in 2006, Peter O’Toole, who is a son of one of her first cousins.
The remaining half of the estate is to be divided among over 40 other offspring of Ms Hernon’s first cousins, one of whom, Agustus ‘Gus’ Kelehan, challenged the validity of the 2006 document and asked the High Court to set it aside.
Ms Hernon left a valuable estate that includes a farmhouse where she resided at Barnacranny, Bushypark, Galway, with adjoining 13 acres of farmland, lands in Athenry Co Galway, and a significant quantity of cash.
During the proceedings, the court heard the estate’s value was not agreed by the parties but had been estimated as being worth between €2.5 million and €9 million.
Ms 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.
It was initially believed she had no will when she died aged 91 years on March 16th, 2017.
However, several months after her death a will, purportedly executed in 2006 by Ms Hernon before 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 Ms 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 the 2006 will was obtained by deceit and should be set aside.
It was claimed Ms Hernon did not like Mr O’Toole, who the court heard has been convicted of offences including fraud and is currently under investigation by gardaí for other matters.
It was alleged Mr O’Gallchobhair was not Ms Hernon’s solicitor, she did not know him, and he was a close associate of Mr O’Toole, of Leagaun, Moycullen, Co Galway.
The claims were denied.
The court heard Mr O’Gallchobhair rejected any wrongdoing or that he had conspired with Mr O’Toole, who he accepted he had represented, in relation to the 2006 will.
He said 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, also denied any wrongdoing.
He claimed to have known Ms Hernon for many years, said 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 and Conor Cahill BL, instructed by Patrick Higgins of Keane’s solicitors, said the “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, 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 Ms Hernon, excluding Mr O’Toole.
Mr Kelehan was also appointed as the representative of Ms 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 are to come from the estate.
The settlement was welcomed by Mr Justice Ferriter, who had encouraged the parties to try to resolve among themselves what was a difficult dispute.
The judge praised both legal teams for helping to bring about the resolution of the matter.