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Editorial

Wills must be Respected, as the Supreme Court ruling on the Challenge by Heather Ilott reminds us

The well documented case of Heather Ilott and her attempt to overturn her Mother’s will appears to have come to an end with the Supreme Court ruling that, whilst she may have be granted some money from her Mother’s estate, it is a far smaller sum than the Court of Appeal awarded.

Despite the fact that Mrs. Ilott’s mother chose to advantage the three charities, not because of her support of the charities, but rather to spite her daughter, the court felt that her wishes should be largely supported.  The ruling re-enforces the premise that a sentient individual is entitled to leave their money and possessions to whomsoever they wish, providing there has been no coercion by a third party, and that an individual’s wishes matter and should be adhered to even after their death.

A vast number of people avoid considering drafting a will, not wishing to contemplate such a thing but fail to think of the difficulties and costs that they may leave behind them for their family to wade through.   This is all the more important if there are complications such as overseas properties, family businesses, step families, estranged relatives and other considerations.  It is only when a person sits down to think about everything that has to be dealt with that they truly realise quite how much has to be taken into account.  Many people seek to limit the amount of inheritance tax that has to be paid by their benefactors, in other families there may be a strong desire to ensure that a particular member of the family does not benefit.  Regardless of the provisions of the will it is absolutely essential to ensure that you have an iron-clad will that cannot be unpicked by a challenge by relatives.

A properly drafted will setting down all your intentions with absolute clarity is by far the best way forward.  An explanation of your decisions is also helpful and should you want to omit a particular relative, it may prevent a challenge to the will that eats away at each party’s resources to such an extent that the estate, when it is eventually shared out, effectively leaves little or nothing for the actual benefactors once the legal costs are paid.

There are many high profile examples of serious sums of money wasted in a futile attempt to frustrate inheritance law. The children of Lord Lambton, the Sixth Earl of Durham, fought a furious battle when the Earl died leaving nothing to his daughters and everything to his son under the English rules of primogeniture enabling the Seventh Earl to take possession not just of the title but of the entire estate. The whole matter was complicated by the fact that the deceased Earl had lived in Italy for 30 years following a sex scandal that brought his political career to an end.  Three of the Lambton Ladies decided to make a challenge to the will using the Italian laws of succession which clearly define how an estate is to be divided between the heirs. This was not a straightforward case as the sisters wanted all the Sixth Earl’s assets including those given away during his lifetime to be incorporated in the inheritance pot, which meant the magnificent Italian 400-year-old Villa Cetinale, which was originally built for Pope Alexander VII on the outskirts of Siena in Tuscany which had been placed in a Trust would be part of the estate under consideration.

They attempted to come to a settlement with their brother but the matter spiralled into the courts and rumbled on for quite some time, attracting warnings from the judge that they should stop their squabble as it was eating up thousands of pounds.  Eventually an out of court settlement has been reached with each sister receiving a sum of ÂŁ1.5 million which Lord Lambton funded by selling the Lucien Freud painting of his mother (considered to be one of Freud’s best nudes).  Lord Lambton stated that in order to pay out his sisters he had no choice but to sell the asset due to his father’s reckless spending, no doubt the renovation of the Villa Cetinale had something to do with that.  He further commented that his father had made provision for his daughters during his lifetime, buying them houses and other gifts.

Few people would like to see their children set against one another because of perceived injustice regarding their inheritance.  The advice of a legal expert and a carefully drafted crystal clear will should be something all people should seriously consider.

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