Anabel Mattingley, 20, claims aunt Karen Bugejab ‘promised to look after her’ after her mum died. She and her aunt are now fighting in court over a £600,000 home
A university student who says her dying mum’s sister betrayed a “promise to look after her” is embroiled in a bitter family row over a £600,000 house.
Anabel Mattingley, 20, says before her mother Kim died in 2016 she “trusted” her sister Karen Bugeja would care for her daughter emotionally and financially after she was gone.
Anabel told London’s High Court that Kim Mattingley, a former JP Morgan banker, did not leave her £600,000 house directly to her daughter in her will because she was worried that her ex-husband would lay claim to it.
Instead, she left the property to her sister but set up a “secret trust” verbally, ensuring that Karen knew a share of the property was to be owned by Anabel.
Anabel and her aunt are now fighting in court.
Karen has insisted that her promise to her sister created only a “moral obligation” and not a legal route for Anabel to claim owners’ rights over the property.
The court heard that Kim Mattingley died after having been diagnosed with skin cancer which later spread.
She had enjoyed a successful career in banking, before becoming an alternative therapist and moving from her £600,000 house in Kings Hill, Kent, to Switzerland, where she died in 2016.
Kim and Karen’s mother, Joan White, moved into Kim’s house, having paid off the mortgage for her.
The home remained under Kim’s name but she signed over a 25-year lease allowing her mum to live there, as well as giving her sister a 29% share of the value to reflect the cash their mum had poured in.
Anabel is now demanding that her aunt sign over a 26.63% share of the house to her, claiming she has betrayed a promise she made to her dying sister by hanging onto the ownership Kim handed her in her will.
Speaking in the witness box, the student told Judge Malcolm Davis-White QC that her mum had expected her sister to care for her daughter after her death and had even looked into making her Anabel’s legal guardian.
She added that Karen had understood that she was meant to pass a 26.63% share of the house legally to Anabel.
She told the judge: ”My mother told me it would be enough for me to put down for a house.
“She told me Karen would look after it and provide to me what was necessary.
“She tried very hard to make me understand and listen. I didn’t want to have the conversation because I didn’t want to contemplate the fact that she was going to die.”
Explaining why her share of the property was not just left to her in the will, she added: “She didn’t want my father to get any of it. She thought she was doing the right thing in getting my aunt to look after it and that she would provide for me.”
Representing Karen, barrister Adrian Carr told Anabel: “The only instructions were that the property would go to your aunt and be held for the benefit of your grandmother. That’s what your mother said in her will.
“There’s nothing to suggest that there was a secret trust. There is no specific mention of a binding obligation on your aunt.
“This is a straightforward simple will, where your mother directed that your aunt should have the house to look after your grandmother.”
Anabel denied the lawyer’s claim, saying that her mum had told Karen during a “crucial conversation” that she wanted the share of the house to pass legally to her daughter and Karen had “agreed”.
“I think the instructions have created a trust,” she told the judge, adding that after her mum’s death her aunt had told her she “didn’t deserve to have any of it and that it was our grandmother’s house”.
Karen told the judge she wants to protect Joan, her and Kim’s mother, who still lives in the house, and has a lease which is coming towards its end.
“In the will she left me the house,” she said. “Both my sister and I considered it to be our mother’s house. Anabel was telling me it was her house.
“I’m fighting this because I didn’t believe my sister would have told me that I was obliged legally to give Anabel a share of a property my mother lives in.
“Mum paid the mortgage off. She was entitled to have the house. It was her home for 24 years. In my opinion she is morally entitled to it.”
She told the barrister that once her mum has moved out of the home and has her care costs covered, she would consider passing some of the value on to Anabel, but that this would be a discretionary choice on her part, rather than Anabel’s legal right.
Anabel has been left the remainder of her mum’s estate under the will including assets in Switzerland and Spain.
The judge has now reserved his decision in the case to be delivered at a later date.