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Case details

Dr Ramraj Deonarine and 4 others (Respondents) v Lauralee Ramcharan (Appellant) (Trinidad and Tobago)

Case ID: JCPC 2021/0047

Jurisdiction: Court of Appeal of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Case summary

Issue

Can the appellant enforce the terms of a compromise agreement which purports to vary the terms of a will before probate is granted? Should the courts below have made findings as to the agreement’s validity, legally binding nature and enforceability? Was the High Court entitled to find that the appellant has a 50% interest in the property known as “Laura Valley”? Is the appellant entitled to any of the other relief sought?

Facts

This appeal concerns the estate of Seeram Seejattan, also known as Peter Seejattan. Mr Seejattan died on 21 March 2008 leaving property in Trinidad and Tobago and in the United States of America. Mr Seejattan left a will which appointed the first respondent, Dr Deonarine, as sole executor and directed him to sell Mr Seejattan’s property, to pay all funeral and testamentary expenses and then to distribute the remainder to Mr Seejattan’s four children, the second, third, fourth and fifth respondents (“the children”) in specified shares. On 15 May 2009, Dr Deonarine applied for probate of Mr Seejattan’s estate.

The appellant, Lauralee Ramcharan, claimed that she was Mr Seejattan’s common law wife and had an interest in his estate. She alleged that she and the children entered into discussions which resulted in a compromise agreement (set out in a series of documents) with respect to the division, distribution and allocation of Mr Seejattan’s estate. The children admit entering into a compromise agreement with the appellant, but dispute its terms.

On 19 April 2013, the appellant commenced a claim in the High Court. Amongst other things, she asked the Court to order that Mr Seejattan’s will should not be admitted to probate and that his estate should instead be divided in accordance with the compromise agreement. The judge found that the appellant was Mr Seejattan’s common law wife and that she was beneficially entitled to a 50% share of a property known as “Laura Valley”. However, she declined to express a view on the validity of the compromise agreement, and held that the appellant should seek to enforce it after the grant of probate. The Court of Appeal allowed the respondents’ appeal and dismissed the appellant’s cross appeal. The appellant now appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Parties

Appellant(s)

Lauralee Ramcharan

Respondent(s)

Dr Ramraj Deonarine and others

Appeal

Justices

Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin, Lord Burrows, Lord Stephens

Hearing start date

31 October 2022

Hearing finish date

31 October 2022