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29th Dec 2022
Rowan Pennington-Benton Instructed by Jihan Hosein Victoria Chambers (Trinidad) for the Appellant.
LORD BRIGGS AND LORD STEPHENS (with whom Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Kitchin and Lord Burrows agree):
Seeram Seejattan (“Peter” to his friends) died in Trinidad on 21st March 2008. Four days earlier he had made a will (“the Will”) by which he appointed his friend Dr Ramraj Deonarine as executor, directed that his entire estate should be sold and, after payment of debts and expenses, the proceeds distributed in specified unequal shares among his four children, Terance, Laura, Gina, and Lisa (collectively “the Children”).
Peter had spent most of his working life in Florida, where he had established businesses and acquired property. But he spent the last six months of his life living in Trinidad, where he had also acquired further properties. While Peter was living and working in Florida the Appellant, Lauralee Ramcharan (“Lauralee”), cohabited with him until September 2007 when he left for Trinidad. But Peter made no provision for Lauralee in his Will.
Dr Deonarine applied for a grant of probate of the Will in May 2009, following which Lauralee intimated claims against Peter’s estate, initially in correspondence with Dr Deonarine’s lawyer, which she later sought to protect by lodging caveats against a grant of probate. After Dr Deonarine issued a warning in July 2011 Lauralee entered an appearance, claiming to be entitled to part of the estate, as Peter’s common law wife with rights under the Succession Act and having contributed to the acquisition of his properties.
It is common ground that meanwhile there ensued negotiations between Lauralee and the Children, three of whom also lived in Florida and one in Ohio, with a view to the distribution of the estate, both in Trinidad and in Florida, between them without the need for recourse to litigation. Lauralee claims that these negotiations culminated in the making of three documents (“the Compromise Documents”) signed by her and by or on behalf of each of the Children, two in January 2012 and the third in June 2012. It will be necessary to describe them in more detail in due course but, in outline, their combined effect was to provide as follows:
(a) Lauralee was to receive specific properties in Trinidad, and in return to make available from her own resources US$66,670 for payment of real estate taxes owing on properties owned by Peter in Florida,
(b) Specified properties in Florida were to be transferred (or sold and the proceeds transferred) to Lauralee and specified Children,
(c) The rest of Peter’s estate was to be divided equally between Lauralee and each of the Children, ie in 20% shares.
(d) Lauralee was to be appointed as the personal representative of Peter in Florida.
The Compromise Documents were expressed to be governed by the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. The first two comprised an Agreement of Arrangement, Settlement and Compromise (“the Agreement”) and a Deed of Arrangement, Settlement and Compromise (“the Deed”) in substantially the same terms. The third was described as a Deed of Rectification (“the Deed of Rectification”). Various documents had inadvertently been omitted from the Deed and the purpose of the Deed of Rectification was to amend the Deed by adding those documents to it. All three of the Compromise Documents were or purported to be witnessed by the same person, one Krishna D Harry. They were all registered in Trinidad and Tobago, as required for documents executed abroad. Copies of the Agreement and of the Deed were also sent to Dr Deonarine’s lawyer on 21 May 2012. The terms enshrined in the Compromise Documents will be referred to as “the Compromise”.
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