Tycoon in will case was expected to live longer

The nephew of the multi-millionaire Eric Hopton, who died before his new will was completed, had been told by a doctor that his uncle could live for another year.

Eric Hopton's great nephew, 22-year-old Dominic Trusted, is suing Clifford Chance, Britain's biggest legal firm, for not ensuring Eric Hopton, a property developer worth pounds 50m, executed a new will before he died childless of heart failure.

But Christopher Hopton told the High Court that just before Hopton's death in January 1991, aged 72, he had been told he "should live until summer".

Christopher was one of the executors of the will and had been liaising between Eric Hopton and David Bowyer, a partner at Clifford Chance. On Eric Hopton's instructions, Christopher, a lawyer, had amended his uncle's new will late in 1990. Eric Hopton had already suffered a heart attack in March 1990.

Under the 1984 will Mr Trusted stood to receive substantially less than in the incomplete will. The court heard that Eric Hopton's relationship with the Trusted side of the family was not close.

The court was told that the 1984 will had contained an "anti-attack" clause: "I believe my uncle confirmed to Mr Bowyer that it was still from the Trusted side of the family that any attack might come," Christopher Hopton said.

One of the chief beneficiaries of the will, Christopher Hopton says he had a "very good relationship" with his uncle.

But giving evidence, Eric Hopton's housekeeper, Sylvia Jean Jones, said that Eric Hopton had been "very cross" just before he died, to receive as a Christmas present from Christopher a photograph of Christopher's son, of whom he had received another photograph the previous Christmas. "Mr Hopton was not at all pleased. He was quite cross and angry. He wanted to tear up the photograph . . ." she said.

The case continues.