This piece follows on from my previous post considering how the Catton family could have protected the inheritance of Saltburn through lifetime planning ( read Part 1 here ). 

Part 2: Potential post-death claims to Oliver’s inheritance

Although the Catton family did not sufficiently protect Saltburn whilst alive and well, all hope is not lost. Given that we see Elspeth in a poor physical and mental condition at the end of the film, it is likely that Oliver manipulated Elspeth into changing her will, using undue influence. As Farleigh (a close family friend of the Cattons) eventually realised Oliver’s manipulation, he could contest the validity of the will on these grounds.

Undue influence can be claimed when there is reason to believe that the testator has been pressured into making a will. Usually, undue influence takes place when the testator is vulnerable, whether physically or emotionally, and a motivated individual uses this to their advantage. In Oliver’s case, Elspeth was extremely emotionally vulnerable following the loss of her children and husband, distorting her view of Oliver perhaps as she was reliant on him. 

In order to challenge the validity of the will on the grounds of undue influence, a reasonable claim must be made which is supported by sufficient evidence. As the testator is deceased at this point, this evidence is often inferred from the will itself and the circumstances surrounding its execution. For example, alterations to a will that appoint a beneficiary unexpectedly at the last minute or any significant changes in how the estate is distributed can be signs that the testator has been influenced to alter their will. In this context, Oliver had pressured Elspeth into changing her will before her sudden and unexpected death, appointing himself as the primary beneficiary.

If Farleigh were to claim, he would have to testify about Elspeth and Oliver’s strange relationship, and recount Oliver’s manipulative and dishonest behaviours during his time at Saltburn with the Catton family. Farleigh’s claim may also be supported by Duncan testifying, as a trusted friend to the family who oversaw the turn of events in Saltburn since Oliver’s arrival. Farleigh may also wish to consider claiming that the will is invalid because Elspeth did not have capacity to make the will (ie was not of sound mind) or possibly failed to have knowledge and approval of its contents.  Considering these alongside Elspeth’s emotional and physical fragility and the unexpected appointment of Oliver as the sole beneficiary of the will, there is a high chance that Elspeth’s will could be proved as invalid, and Oliver’s inheritance would be taken away.

Alternatively, if Oliver is found guilty of Elspeth’s murder, he will be prevented from benefitting under her will under the Forfeiture Act 1982. 

However, if all else failed and the challenge to the will were to be unsuccessful or Farleigh did not claim in fear of Oliver, at the very least the Catton family could rest well in the knowledge that Oliver will soon have to pay the forty percent inheritance tax that is now due on the Saltburn estate and so might not be able to afford to keep it!