When actress Lynda Bellingham sadly lost her battle with cancer in 2014, her sons were left an unexpected nightmare.
Lynda and her husband, Michael Pattermore, made traditional Mirror Wills, in which Lynda left her entire estate to her third husband expecting him to leave her share of their combined assets to her sons on his death.
'We both wrote Wills as a married couple and they mirrored each other in how we would leave our estate,' admitted Michael.
Lynda will undoubtedly have felt, that she could trust her husband to carry out her wishes and provide for her sons. But, it turns out that her trust was misplaced.
What actually followed, was a very public dispute between Lynda’s husband and her sons…
Michael decided to re-write his own Will, disinheriting them altogether and leaving everything to his own son and daughter.
“I have re-written the Will and they (Lynda’s Sons) will get nothing from me.” Michael told the Daily Mail.
Can Michael do that?
In a word: yes. Having executed Mirror Wills, Lynda passed all her assets to Michael when she died. His promise to look after her sons was never legally enforceable. Lynda’s assets are now Michael’s to do with as he wishes. There is nothing in law to prevent Michael going back on his promise and re-writing his earlier Will.
Can the Will be challenged?
Fortunately, an act exists to protect children from these situations. Her sons Robert and Michael were able to bring a claim against Lynda’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”).
After some legal wrangling the court proceedings were settled on terms that have not been fully disclosed. What is known is that the Lynda’s sons are to receive one of her portfolio of properties. The property is estimated to be worth between £700,000 to £800,000 and is let to tenants, but is by all accounts mortgaged to the hilt, leaving the boys with only a nominal amount of equity.
Lynda’s Son Michael told the Daily Mail the property ‘…has tenants until next July and when we sell it, we have to pay Pattemore’s £30,000 capital gains tax. We owe our lawyers £60,000, so we’re looking at walking away with less than £50,000 each.
‘But this was never about the money – it’s about the fact that our mum trusted him to look after us, and that hasn’t happened. At least we’re finally nearer to the point where we can have nothing more to do with him.’
Unfortunately, it is likely that Lynda’s sons spent more in legal fees than they recovered. Challenging a Will is an expensive and stressful process and something that you would seek to avoid at all costs.
Can this be prevented?
Sadly, these types of disputes are common amongst step-families, but they are preventable.
Property Protection Wills could have been set up to safeguard her assets for both her husband and her sons. Lynda could have left her share of their home to her own children, while giving Michael a Right of Occupation for the rest of his life. This would have guaranteed her son’s inheritance, whilst ensuring that Michael’s home is secure.
Estate planning is complicated. This is why it is important you speak to someone like Alvechurch Legal Services who specialise in offering sound advice. If you would like to talk to us about your Will, please get in touch.