WHY DID THE EARL’S WILD CHILD LOSE HER CLAIM TO A SHARE OF HIS £1.3M FORTUNE
This unfortunate case is reported in The Times and a number of papers. An earl’s daughter who “hated” her family’s aristocratic lifestyle has lost her attempt at claiming a larger share of his £1.3m fortune (she appears to have been left only £20,000 by his Will and she might well have lost that to legal costs as well).
In The Times report a number of facts are mentioned which seem to have played a part in her losing the will contest claim that she brought. For instance:
• A “drink and drug lifestyle”
• A mutual estrangement (and a finding by the court that it was “due to Tara’s conduct alone”)
• She had “hated the aristocratic life” and the family’s “superior attitudes”
• Her disruptive “behaviour”
• “years of wasted assistance” by her father
1. WHAT SORT OF WILL DISPUTE CLAIM WAS THIS AND WHY DID IT FAIL?
This is most likely to have been a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 – see https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1975/63
In England and Wales there is freedom of testamentary disposition. This means that a mother or father can leave his or her estate to anyone (not necessarily their children). Lady Wellesley appears to have been a victim of this. Whilst she was left something it seems (£20,000), it was only a relatively modest part of this large estate.
The Inheritance Act ’75 referred to above gives the Court discretion to make additional awards to disappointed beneficiaries who are close to the deceased. It can be seen that this discretion can be influenced by lifestyle, the sympathy of the Court towards the Claimant and most importantly to the question of whether an estrangement was the cause and if so whose fault it was. In this instance it would appear the Court took against Lady Wellesley in a material way so that her will contest claim failed.
2. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A JUST CAUSE FOR THE DISINHERITANCE IN A WILL DISPUTE AND WILL CONTEST CLAIM
This is clearly demonstrated in Lady Wellesley’s case. The Judge seems to have found the estrangement “was due to Tara’s conduct alone”. It made the Judge extremely reluctant to interfere with the Testator’s freedom to leave his estate as he wished. The leading case (in will contest claims of this type) of Ilott v Mitson 2017 supports this approach:
However it also says the court should be cautious in attributing blame for the estrangement to either party, which also makes it a little confusing. What we learn from this in will dispute and will contest cases is that there is a significant risk attached to each side of the will dispute. To be clear, the risk, as in all civil claims of this type, is that if the claim is lost, the loser will pay the winner’s costs which can be significant – in excess of £50,000 in cases of this nature (and of course the loser will have to pay his own costs too unless he instructed his lawyers under a no win no fee arrangement).
3. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO GUARD AGAINST THE RISK OF LOSING IN A WILL DISPUTE AND WILL CONTEST CLAIM OF THIS TYPE
I list the possible options, starting with the most important:
• Negotiate a resolution – if you go to trial you give up control to an individual who only meets you on a given day in artificial circumstances (at a trial) and who may not actually like you, your lawyers and your case
• Your lawyers should advise you on costs and risk as the claim proceeds – listen to them!
• It is possible to buy an element of protection against the risk of losing by taking on ATE insurance (“after the event” insurance) which can operate in the same way as a no win no fee arrangement; however it has a number of pitfalls:
– Whilst only paid if you win, the premiums can be huge (for instance £20,000 to £40,000 is not uncommon) and will come straight off any money you win (conversely, you won’t pay anything if you lose);
– The protection provided might be limited (for instance in a recent matter I obtained protection amounting to only about £46,000 including our own disbursements which was likely to be considerably less than the likely costs of the Defendant which were predicted to exceed £75,000)
– It might encourage you (and the Defendant) to a trial when really you should be settling (negotiating a resolution)
If you consider that any of these facts and matters are likely to apply to you, or you would like to ask us for more information about our no win no fee arrangement, or you simply want us to assess your claim, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential no strings chat.