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Interesting story in today's paper.

 

IN COURT

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Astronomic row over comet explorer’s ‘best mate’ will

INDIA MCTAGGART

ASTRONOMERS are locked in a battle over a legacy after a man who discovered a comet left his entire estate to his “best mate”.

Roy Panther, an amateur stargazer who found fame when he discovered “Comet Panther” in 1980, had planned to leave his £400,000 fortune to the British Astronomical Association (BAA).

However, a month before his death in 2016, he allegedly dictated a new will leaving everything to “my best mate”, without clarifying who that was.

Now the BAA and one of Mr Panther’s oldest friends, also a keen amateur astronomer, are embroiled in a court row over whether the new will is valid.

Mr Panther had written a will in 1986, leaving almost all of his fortune – including his home in Walgrave, West Northants – to the BAA, of which he was a long-standing member.

But Alan Gibbs is fighting to prove that he is the rightful heir, arguing that he was not named on the handwritten document because Mr Panther dictated it to him and it was written colloquially.

Mr Panther, who was 90 when he died in Northampton General Hospital, spotted the comet with his homemade telescope at his home on Christmas Day, 1980. The discovery earned him a mention in the record books and an appearance on the BBC’s The Sky at Night, during which he was interviewed by Sir Patrick Moore.

He spotted the faint signs of what would become “Comet Panther” within the constellation of Draco while conducting a “systematic search” of the night sky.

He left his estate to the BAA, along with small cash sums to two friends and £10,000, plus his stargazing equipment, to the executor of his will, Colin Eaton. But Mr Gibbs says when Mr Panther was in hospital, in 2016, he dictated a new will stating “if I die” the estate should go to “my best mate,” which Mr Gibbs argues can only refer to him.

The battle over the 2016 will be heard at a trial at Central London County Court next year, but at a short planning hearing, Judge Alan Johns KC granted an application for medical evidence relating to Mr Panther’s capacity to make a will at the time he was in hospital to be given at the trial by doctors.

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I saw this case reported on, which was interesting to me as I know a solicitor who writes wills, and we have previously discussed some of the weird cases that crop up, due to dodgy wording and otherwise.

I expect most of us might guess that a bequest to "my best mate" might cause some problems, but there is a surprising number of people who don't understand how clauses in wills would be interpreted, and a fair few who forget some very pertinent details until prompted, such as that child they haven't spoken to for 20 years.

 

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