Award-winning table tennis coach is locked in £2million inheritance battle after his wealthy aunt left her fortune to neighbour who ‘exploited her to get his hands on her money’
- Ada Richards died aged 92 in September 2011, leaving fortune to her neighbour
- James De Jong, 74, inherited fortune including £1.5m house in Highgate, London
- But her two nephews Derek Seager and his brother Ian dispute legitimacy of will
- They say their elderly aunt was pressured into leaving everything to Mr De Jong
An award-winning table tennis coach is locked in a £2million inheritance battle after his wealthy aunt left her fortune to a neighbour – who he claims ‘exploited’ her to get his hands on the money.
Widow Ada Richards died, aged 92, in September 2011, having made a will the previous year handing her entire fortune, including her £1.5m house in Highgate, north London, to close neighbour James De Jong.
Mr De Jong, 74, became Mrs Richards’ main carer in her last years and even moved into her home after she broke her hip in 2007, Central London County Court heard yesterday.
He says he was left everything by the widow in her 2010 will because he had ‘pledged to care for her until her passing’.
But her two nephews – table tennis coach Derek Seager, 73, and his brother Ian – claim their elderly aunt was ‘afraid of Mr De Jong’ and was pressured into leaving everything to him.
Widow Ada Richards died, aged 92, in September 2011, handing her fortune to close neighbour James De Jong (left, outside Central London County Court). But her two nephews, table tennis coach Derek Seager (right in cream jacket) and his brother Ian (right in blue), say she was pressured into leaving everything to him
The brothers say Mr De Jong isolated Mrs Richards from her friends and ‘exploited’ his position to get his hands on her money.
Mr De Jong however insists the widow ‘despised’ the brothers’ side of the family, having fallen out with them decades ago.
He says the 2010 will is valid, that neither brother had seen their aunt since the 1950s, and that they were tracked down by heir hunters after her death.
Judge Nicholas Parfitt heard that Mr De Jong had lived in the same street as Mrs Richards and her hairdresser husband James, since the 1970s.
But after she was left widowed in 1992, he came to play an increasingly major role in her life.
Mr De Jong told the court his ‘main concern was her health and welfare’ and that he met all her needs until she went to live in a care home in September 2010.
However, the brothers’ barrister, Gabriel Fadipe, claimed Mr De Jong had pressured Mrs Richards to leave him her fortune and cut out her family from the will.
‘We contend that Mr De Jong told Mrs Richards there was no one else who could look after her if he did not, and that he would not do so if she did not leave her estate to him,’ he said.
‘That is sufficient in the circumstances to constitute undue influence.’
Among the items left to Mr De Jong, was Mrs Richards £1.5m house in Highgate, north London. Now her two nephews, Derek Seager and his brother Ian, say the house is rightfully theirs
The barrister also put the claim straight to Mr De Jong in the witness box, suggesting: ‘You said that, unless she left the house to you in her will, you would not look after her?’
‘That never crossed my mind,’ Mr De Jong replied. ‘My pledge was to care for her until her passing.’
Mr Fadipe said he did not dispute Mr De Jong had in the past provided ‘valuable care’ for his elderly neighbour.
But he claimed he created a situation, ‘whether inadvertently or by design’, through which Mrs Richards became isolated from her friends and increasingly reliant on him.
And Mr De Jong ‘exploited that situation’ with his alleged threats to stop caring for her unless she made her will over to him, the barrister claimed.
Mrs Richards was both ‘afraid of Mr De Jong’ and ‘frightened’ of losing his assistance, Mr Fadipe said.
Mr De Jong had been accused by the widow of treating her abusively on two occasions, alleged Mr Fadipe, once by hitting her with a rolled-up newspaper and again by pouring a cup of water on her.
And when Mrs Richards was finally transferred to a care home, she made clear she did not want to see him, he added.
An eye witness who saw Mr De Jong when he visited Mrs Richards stated that she appeared ‘most distressed’ and that her condition worsened afterwards, said the barrister.
For Mr De Jong, barrister Julian Reed said that he had been charged with assaulting Mrs Richards following an allegation made against him by another neighbour, but was acquitted in March 2011.
And Mr De Jong himself told the court he did not pour water on Mrs Richards or hit her with a newspaper, although he added: ‘One thing I know for certain was that when Ada was in pain she would say strange things.’
The case against Mr De Jong has been bought by Derek Seager (right), a 73-year-old coach who was handed a national award by Table Tennis England for his work, along with his brother, Ian Seager (left). The two siblings are Mrs Richards’ closest relatives and the children of her sister
As for the care home visit, Mr De Jong claimed his elderly neighbour had been relieved to see him, and ‘clung to my hand begging me to take her home’.
The case against Mr De Jong has been bought by Derek Seager, a 73-year-old coach with the Aldershot and District Table Tennis League who was handed a national award by Table Tennis England for his work, along with his brother, Ian Seager.
The two siblings are Mrs Richards’ closest relatives and the children of her sister.
They claim the 2010 will was ‘improperly procured’.
But Mr Reed told the judge that neither brother had seen their aunt since the 1950s and that they were tracked down by ‘inheritance hunters’ after her death.
From the witness box, Mr De Jong claimed Mrs Richards told him in the past that she ‘wanted nothing to do with that side of her family’.
‘They had ostracised her and she despised that side of her family,’ he added.
But the brothers’ barrister said there was evidence of Mr De Jong ‘exercising control’ over her, including a claim by one of her friends that, after a visit to her in hospital in 2008, Mr De Jong told him not to visit again.
Mr De Jong was also ‘instrumental’ in the execution of her will, said Mr Fadipe, arranging for it to be prepared and formally witnessed.
He then kept hold of the will once it was executed, the court heard.
Mr De Jong denied his involvement was inappropriate, insisting that Mrs Richards repeatedly ‘nagged’ him to get her will fixed up.
The judge at Central London County Court is being asked by Mr De Jong to pronounce in favour of the 2010 will, under which he gets everything. Judge Parfitt has reserved his decision in the case
As for isolating her from friends and neighbours, he explained that she had become increasingly reclusive, and wary of some of her pals.
She was also clear that she wanted the friend who visited her in hospital to ‘leave her alone’, said Mr De Jong.
His barrister pointed out that the will was properly witnessed by two professional people, both of whom confirmed the absence of any ‘undue influence’.
Mr De Jong had done his best to care for his neighbour in pressing circumstances, Mr Reed told the court.
The judge is being asked by Mr De Jong to pronounce in favour of the 2010 will, under which he gets everything.
The nephews are counterclaiming for a declaration that she died intestate, meaning they would get everything as her next of kin.
Judge Parfitt has now reserved his decision in the case, to be delivered at a later date.
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