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Contract Law Cases - Allcard v Skinner

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Religion being used to take away people's money? This must be the first case of THAT happening!

Religion being used to take away people's money? This must be the first case of THAT happening!

Background of Allcard v Skinner

Allcard v Skinner was the case where a woman by the name of Mrs Allcard was introduced by her reverend (Mr Nihil) to Mrs Skinner, a woman who was the 'superior' lady in a protestant institution created by Nihil and Skinner themselves. They called this institution 'The Sisters of the Poor' and membership required Mrs Allcard to give up all of her property (possessions) to Mrs Skinner as well as write a will stating that all property will go to her upon death.

Mrs Allcard was a member of the Sisters of the Poor from 1870 until 1879 and agreed to these terms, giving Skinner a total of £1,050 and stocks and shares worth £5, 870 during this time, totalling almost £7,000 in the 19th Century, which is roughly the equivalent of £350,000 today.

When Allcard decided to leave in 1879 she revoked the will she had made promising her property away to Skinner and then tried to claim the property she had already given away back in 1885. She did this on the grounds that she was unduly influenced by Skinner to do so without anyone else's advice.

It was part of the rules of the sisterhood that "the voice of thy Superior is the voice of God' and that 'no Sister [should] seek advice of any extern without the Superior's leave' meaning that Allcard was obliged to not seek the opinion of anyone else except Skinner, pointing towards undue influence.

Thinking for yourself is NUN of your Business!

The Court's Ruling

The courts ruled that Mrs Allcard would have been entitled to reclaim whatever was left of the property she had given to Skinner due to the following facts:

  1. The process that lead to her final decision was not unbiased since Allcard was told she could not seek (or needed permission and therefore made it difficult/impossible to do so) advice from anyone outside of the institution.
  2. She was being heavily influenced by people who she deemed to be of superior rank to her and so did not make the decision on her own.
  3. Even though the defendants claimed that she had advice from her brother and still chose to give away her possessions, Lord Justice Cotton stated that had this been true and she had unbiased advice, the second point raised would still make her decision unduly influenced."

Lord Justice Cotton's Exact Words

"At the time of the gift the Plaintiff was a professed sister, and, as such, bound to render absolute submission to the Defendant as superior of the sisterhood. She had no power to obtain independent advice, she was in such a position that she could not freely exercise her own will as to the disposal of her property, and she must be considered as being [not] a free agent"


"In my opinion, even if there were evidence that she had, before she joined the sisterhood, advice on the question of how she should deal with her property, that would not be sufficient."

Lessons to take away

  • The courts are sympathetic to people who have been unduly influenced into performing particular actions.
  • When this means doing something that directly affects ones own life, such as giving away your life savings to someone else, the courts will rule that you are entitled to recover whatever you can from the damages your influenced decision caused you.
  • Waiting for six years before claiming your property back on the grounds of undue influence is too long for the courts.

The Final Decision for Mrs Allcard

In the end Allcard was not actually able to claim her property back because of the long delay she had made before taking the issue to court.

A delay of six years was deemed too long to be reasonably accepted by the Court of Appeal and Mrs Allcard received nothing.

When pressing legal action, make sure it is within a reasonable time!


Adele on January 11, 2015:

It's a real plrusaee to find someone who can think like that

DK (author) from London on July 30, 2013:

Okay thanks Borsia, real shame to hear about how this is happening in the US but I guess with 300 million there is bound to be a larger variety of crimes.

The law system must be so much more complex too, what with 50 states having their own individual takes on the law. Maddening!

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It's interesting that there is such a huge different in the statue of limitation between the two countries. 6 years seems too long in my opinion but 1 year far too short. Difficult to say but I'm sure the decision on the US side was made due to the larger amount of civil cases it must deal with.

Thanks again Borsia it's always nice to hear from you,


Borsia from Currently, Philippines on July 30, 2013:

Hi Phil; I have pretty much no knowledge of the UK laws or court system.

In the US if it can be proved that someone manipulated an elderly who might have been in a weakened state it can be classified as elder abuse. But these "individuals and groups" often are able to convince the person not to tell anyone so I doesn't get challenged in time. Then it becomes a big mess in court as relatives try to prove that they weren't mentally capable at the time they signed the papers.

In the US it is 1 year for most, though not all, civil cases.

DK (author) from London on July 30, 2013:

Hey Borsia! Thanks for stopping by!

It makes me boil inside to think that people are exploiting the elderly. That takes a lot of shamelessness.

I was wondering if you might give me your thoughts on the law for this case. It says here that the statute of limitation in the UK for most cases is 6 years, but some are three. Which category do you think Allcard's case fits in? I'm thinking "simple contract" or "sum recoverable by virtue of statute".

Borsia from Currently, Philippines on July 30, 2013:

The court followed basic contract law so the did what they were supposed to do. The Statute of Limitations in the US is 1 year.

One lesson to take from this is that if anyone for any reason asks you to give something and insists that you take no counsel prior to signing away your property they are crooks and you should cut & run ASAP.

So called "religious" organizations do things similar to this in the US every day. They befriend the elderly and get them to will them everything basically in return for some attention.

Most of these aren't real religious persons just wolves in sheep's coats.

I know of 2 people who had this happen to their families even though they were in constant contact and saw their parents, mothers in both cases, every weekend and other times when it was possible. Both families loved their mothers and they weren't neglected or ignored. The "religious" groups somehow had special permission to visit residents outside of normal visiting hours and so were able to avoid ever being seen by responsible family members. (both were in care homes).

In one case the family was able to get the court to refuse the will & contract signed by the mother fairly easily in the other it took a big court battle and after the lawyers got paid there was nothing left.

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