Siblings at war over 'barely literate' father's £100M estate

Siblings at war over ‘barely literate’ father’s £100M estate: Property tycoon who quit school at 12 cut son out of will and left majority to daughter because he ‘didn’t understand document he was signing’

  • Kevin Reeves made fortune in property despite his lack of a formal education 
  • Left 80% of his fortune to Louise Reeves, 35, and rest to other daughter Lisa
  • Bill Reeves, 47, is now suing to receive a larger share of his father’s estate 

A rags-to-riches tycoon who quit school at 12 cut his son out of his will and left the majority to his daughter because he was ‘barely literate’ and ‘didn’t understand the document he was signing’, a court heard.

Kevin Reeves made a fortune in property despite missing out on most of his formal education and being left as an orphan to a convent as a child. By the time of his death aged 71 in 2019 he had a vast businesses and investment empire worth up to £100million.

Previously he had intended to split the bulk of his fortune equally between his children Bill Reeves, 47, a businessman, hairdresser Louise Reeves, 35, and Lisa Murray – who did not know her father until she was in her 20s. Smaller but significant sums would then go to the children of his estranged eldest son, Mark Reeves.

But in a dramatic u-turn in 2014, the old will was replaced with a new one which left the vast majority of the estate to Louise and Lisa, with Louise getting 80% and Lisa 20%.

Instead of receiving as much as £26.7m, Bill was left with only a handful of personal possessions worth about £200,000. He is now suing to have the will overturned, backed by Mark’s 24-year-old son Ryan.

Louise Reeves, 35, was left 80% of her father Kevin’s £100million fortune after his death in 2019 

Bill Reeves, 47, is contesting the will and demanding a more equal share of his father’s estate 

Bill claims the 2014 document is invalid because Louise exercised ‘undue influence’ over Kevin and ‘bullied’ him into giving her the bulk of the fortune – consisting of around £80m and a Rolls Royce Phantom.

As the highly charged three-week High Court battle drew to a close, Bill’s barrister Constance McDonnell QC told the court that Kevin could not have known what he was doing as he would not have been able to read the document properly.

His literacy was so poor that he had misspelt his other daughter Lisa’s name incorrectly in three different ways on one sheet of paper, she told the court.

‘The documentary evidence relating to Kevin’s literacy all points in the direction of him barely having been able to read,’ the barrister said.

Kevin Reeves: From orphan to £100m property mogul

Kevin Reeves had a tough start to life – with the court hearing how he was left as an orphan to a convent before leaving school at 12 with limited literacy skills. 

But through he ‘ingenuity and hard work’,  he was able to raise up from these humble beginnings to build a £100million property empire based around Southampton. 

He was described in court as having a ‘tough exterior’, which made him a famously tough negotiator. But he was also a devoted family man, relatives said. 

Mr Reeves made the most of his fortune to enjoy a luxury lifestyle, owning a fleet of cars including a Rolls Royce Phantom and going on holidays to California and Las Vegas.  

‘The preparation of the 2014 will appears to have been carried out on the basis of an incorrect assumption or belief by all solicitors involved that Kevin could read sufficiently well to read and understand a draft will and a covering explanatory letter.

‘It is demonstrably clear that Kevin could barely write, and that he was unable to spell even words which were very familiar to him such as his daughter Lisa’s name, or his address, or words which he was trying to copy from printed text.’

Earlier, giving evidence, Louise – who worked as a hairdresser at Toni and Guy before taking on her father’s business after his death – had denied that her father could not read.

‘He could not have achieved what he had achieved without being able to read a document,’ she told the judge.

‘People would have ripped him off left, right and centre. It is absolute nonsense.’

Accusing her of exercising ‘undue influence’ over her father, Ms McDonnell said Louise had shown herself in the witness box to be a ‘capable manipulator’ with a ‘ruthless streak.’

‘She tried, too hard, to portray a sickly-sweet relationship with her father,’ said the QC.

But for Louise, Thomas Dumont QC insisted that there was ample evidence that Kevin would have been able to read and understand the will before signing it.

‘The fact that Kevin may have asked for the odd word to be explained to him does not prove illiteracy,’ he said.

‘It actually proves an ability to read, to get to the word in a newspaper article or document that requires explanation.

Kevin Reeves made a fortune in property despite missing out on most of his formal education and being left as an orphan to a convent as a child 

‘It is also important to remember two features of Kevin’s character: he would like people to underestimate him in business and he had a knack of getting other people to do things for him.

‘That he might ask people to read things aloud to him is perfectly in keeping with both of these character traits.’

He urged the judge to allow Kevin’s ‘voice to be heard’ and accused Bill of having ‘effectively tried to silence’ him.

‘Kevin created his wealth from nothing and to deny him the right to choose what to do with it is a serious step,’ he added.

Earlier, the court heard that Kevin Reeves had made himself rich through his ‘hard work and ingenuity’ – despite having been left to a convent as a young child and abandoned school completely by the age of 12.

Mr Justice Michael Green will give his ruling on the case at a later date.  

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