Probate Disputes

The Probate Disputes of the Rich (Or Not So Rich) And Famous

Probate disputes can affect anyone, no matter whether they are a big Hollywood star or an unknown. When a famous person dies, it is often not just the family who goes into mourning, but the general public too. But who exactly are we mourning for? It’s the person we think the celebrity was that we’ll miss, not the celebrity themselves, and sometimes, when it comes to probate, the public get to know more about their idol than most would want to. 

Some famous deaths have resulted in lengthy or bizarre probate disputes. Here are just a few of them.


Gary Coleman

Gary Coleman 196x300 The Probate Disputes of the Rich (Or Not So Rich) And Famous

When Gary Coleman died in 2010, he didn’t leave a huge estate. His home still had a mortgage on it, but there were some royalties that could be claimed. The problem was that Coleman is alleged to have left three different wills, and one of them included a handwritten codicil that said everything should be left to Shannon Price, Coleman’s ex-wife. However, since they were no longer married, a judge declared that Price could not inherit, and the money instead went to Anna Gray, Coleman’s business partner.


Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix 300x221 The Probate Disputes of the Rich (Or Not So Rich) And Famous

Jimi Hendrix may only have been 27 when he died in 1970, but his estate was worth $80 million. After the music legend’s death, his father took over the running of the estate after a protracted legal battle, but when he died in 2002 it all started up again. Most of the money was left to Al Hendrix’s daughter, Janie, and nothing was left to his son, Leon. Leon and his children started a lawsuit, as they felt that Janie had influenced Al, ensuring that they were left out of the will altogether. The trial took three months, and the judge found that the will was valid, and Al had not been influenced by anyone.


J. Howard Marshall II

Anna Nicole Smith 300x225 The Probate Disputes of the Rich (Or Not So Rich) And Famous

The name J. Howard Marshal II may not be instantly familiar to everyone, but mention Anna Nicole Smith – his wife, who was 62 years younger than him – and immediately everyone knows who the man was. When he died in 1995, Marshall’s will came as a surprise to everyone; Anna Nicole and Marshall’s son, J. Howard Marshall III, were completely left out of the will. The entire estate, worth $1.6 billion, was left to Marshall’s stepson, E. Pierce Marshall. Although both Smith and J. Howard Marshall III contested the will and filed probate disputes, both died before a final ruling could be made. 

Why writing your own will could well end up in probate dispute

Why writing your own will could well end up in probate dispute

A recent survey on behalf of Saga revealed that around 40% of adults now have a will in place.  Unfortunately, it also seems that approximately one quarter of these individuals have chosen to write their own will, without any input whatsoever from a will writing professional – running the risk of creating a probate dispute.

A number of principal reasons were stated for this, largely based on pre-conceived (and sometimes inaccurate) ideas of cost and the legal system.

The majority (37%) had felt that it would be cheaper to prepare their own will, rather than seeking legal advice and a quarter also felt that it would make the whole process quicker.  Some mentioned that they were uncomfortable with sharing such personal information with a stranger, regardless of their professionalism and guarantee of confidentiality.

There are, however, a number of risks associated with writing your own will without legal supervision, which depend upon the size of the family unit, the value of the estate and simple ambiguity.  Indeed, it was noted that one in fourteen respondents had either subsequently encountered a problem during probate, or knew of someone who had, after drafting a will themselves.  Nearly half said that the problem had led to a dispute and 39% said this had gone on to delay the probate process.

The complexities and legal knowledge required to write a will for all but the smallest and least complicated estates, is often misunderstood.  Very often, the wording included in the will is not specific enough and is open to question by family members, which often leads to a very bitter, unpleasant and costly dispute.  On the other side of the coin, it is not always advisable to mention specific sums of money which should be left to key individuals, as the value of the estate may change over time.

One of the most common mistakes is to draft one will and not regularly update it to reflect family or financial circumstances.  This can mean that some new family members are left out or there is not enough money in the pot to satisfy a particular bequest.

In some instances, a will has not been correctly signed and witnessed.  This renders a will invalid and, instead of the executor being able to fulfil the deceased's wishes, the probate office may be forced to apply intestacy and follow the standard rules of estate distribution, according to English law.

The lessons here are to firstly, seek legal advice from an experienced will writing or probate professional when writing a will.  Then, be sure to update it whenever any significant family or financial change occurs.  In this way, the probate process is much more likely to be carried out seamlessly and efficiently, without any inter-family squabbles, disappointment and bitterness.

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Why funeral costs can cause disputes

Why funeral costs can cause disputes

The topic of why funeral costs can cause disputes was raised, in a recent interview with an undertaker.

As a society, we're fascinated by death – definitely not our own or that of someone close to us – but the mystery surrounding death and the events which take place afterwards, until the funeral has been carried out.  TV programmes and books have given us an insight into the world of the undertaker.

In this particular interview, the undertaker says that tensions often come to the fore around money.  Funerals carried out by her organisation start from around £2,500, with some funeral bills amounting up to a staggering £40,000.

"Sometimes rows are brewing over the will", she says.  If it is evident that there are specific rifts or problems within a family even at this early stage, then it occurs to me that the contents of the will should be explained well in advance before the death of the individual.  This would help to prepare all concerned, potentially prevent any probate disputes and make what is a devastating time, just that little bit easier.

Michael Winner beneficiaries launch court cases


As suspected, a number of the beneficiaries named in Michael Winner’s will have launched their own court cases.

Ex-mistresses, friends and Mr Winner’s housekeeper were left various assets in the will but unfortunately, it was later revealed that the film director had left behind considerable debts. In many cases, it was the beneficiaries which had been left with the burden of paying off these debts.

Dinah May, his housekeeper, along with two former lovers, have subsequently launched court cases in order to protect their own financial interests.

It was initially thought that his estate was worth almost £17 million. However, after his considerable debts are paid off, it is instead considered to be worth only £4.75 million – nowhere near enough to fund his wife’s lifestyle for her remaining years, or the high mortgages which he has left to his nearest and dearest to pay off.

Geraldine, Michael’s wife, is hoping to sell their mansion as quickly as possible, and the three other women are hoping that the executors will agree to pay off the debts which with they have been saddled, from the sale of the property. This agreement however, is not likely to be concluded within the next few months.

The Lambton probate battle

This week’s probate battle focuses on the estranged family of TV presenter, Lucinda Lambton.

Unfortunately, although exceptionally wealthy, Ms Lambton’s family appears to have been dogged by controversy and arguments over the years.

Her father, the late Earl of Durham, had lived in Italy for thirty years prior to his death in 2006 – driven there by a sex scandal which had broken several decades earlier.

In his will, Antony Lambton left his entire estate to his only son Ned, leaving his other children out in the cold.  Three of his daughters in particular were understandably miffed and tried to force Ned’s hand by claiming they could use Italian forced heirship laws to gain a share of their late father’s estate.

The row continued for years, with Ned offering to give each sister £1 million to drop any legal proceedings.  Unfortunately, the girls refused this offer and took the case to court in 2011, seeking a clawback of assets gifted during their father’s lifetime, which included Lambton Castle in the north east.

Ned has now issued a counter-writ in an attempt to prevent his sisters from citing Italian succession law, stating that the late Earl did indeed leave provision for all his other children.

Contesting a will leaves family with nothing



Contesting a will has left a family with £150,000 legal costs; effectively wiping out any assets left by the deceased. 


After her husband died twenty years ago, Daphne Burgess made out a will which left her entire estate divided equally between her three children.


Over the following few years, her son Peter and daughter Julia bickered and fell out over a number of trivial issues which resulted in them becoming estranged from each other.


Unfortunately, Daphne subsequently suffered a mini stroke in December 2006, only a few days after Julia had taken her to change her will, indicating that only her two daughters should be her sole beneficiaries.


The will was executed around a month later and Mrs Burgess sadly passed away a couple of years later; sixteen years after the death of her husband and it was not until this time that the changes came to light.


Peter, upset at not having been notified of the changes to the will, questioned whether his mother had been of sound mind at the time the will was altered.


A lengthy court case ensued in which it was revealed that Julia had used £18,000 from her mother’s bank accounts for her own personal use.  It was only this week that the judge ruled that Daphne’s original will should stand, with the money being split between all three siblings.


Unfortunately, legal costs to date have accrued to the region of £150,000, effectively wiping out Mrs Burgess entire estate.  Her son however has nobly offered to pay these costs in full, to spare his sisters the financial stress and ensure that both his sisters receive what is due to them.

Probate dispute sees home destroyed


Although the number of Wills being challenged is on the rise, even the IWC team was shocked by the recent case of Tony McGuire and the ongoing probate dispute with his siblings.
Mr McGuire’s father died in 2005, at which point Tony and his family moved into his father’s home; despite, it seems, not realising that his brother and sister also had equal shares in the property.
A complex legal dispute over probate ensued, during which time Tony invested around £200,000 of his own savings, extending the property and building a garage.
The case came to a head over the last few days, when his brother began eviction proceedings.  Rather than potentially losing his home and seeking legal advice, Tony instead applied for permission to demolish.  However, presumably impatient with the slow process, he took matters into his own hands and took to the house with a sledgehammer.
It would be interesting to read more details about this case; particularly why it was not recognised from the outset that each sibling had been left an equal share in the house and why this particular dispute still hadn’t been settled after seven years.
What a shame that this probate challenge wasn’t dealt with differently in the early stages after the late Mr McGuire’s death

Contentious probate – How long does a contentious probate case take?


Contentious probate can take months or even years to settle in complex cases.  However, the number of probate cases being contested continues to rise.
The media has highlighted the estate of the late Peter Ustinov, whose family is still locked in battle over his estate, nine years after he died.
Although the famous actor left a multi million pound estate and had even prepared a Will well in advance of his death, the mounting legal fees may mean that much of his estate will have been wasted in this way.
With the traditional family structure having been altered beyond recognition, probate is now a much more complicated process than it used to be, with step parents, step children and multiple parentage posing more challenges.
If you wish to challenge a Will therefore, it is vital that you approach an experienced contentious probate professional, who will guide you and keep you informed throughout the entire process.

Fake will results in jail for conman

A conman who took advantage of a newspaper article searching for relatives of a deceased man, has been sentenced to jail for more than three years, after he and an accomplice created a fraudulent will.

The deceased was a Lithuanian national who was described as having lived a “fairly solitary existence”.  A notice was put into local and national press, asking any surviving relatives to come forward and make a claim on the estate and a genealogy company had identified a living nephew in Lithuania.

In the meantime however, a second gentleman had attended the probate registry in Cardiff, along with what appeared to be a genuine will belonging to the deceased, and signed by the accused.  All assets were duly granted to this man.

Subsequently, it came to light that the two men had carried out another similar fraudulent act regarding an estate around the same time, which alerted the authorities.  Both cases had originally netted them a total of £150,000 before judgement was passed.

Should I enter in a caveat probate?

Whether or not to enter in a caveat to prevent a grant of probate from being issued is a major decision. It is often the first step taken in the process of contesting a will.
It is described by HM Courts & Tribunals service as used to create ‘breathing space.’ It allows someone the chance to seek legal advice and decide their next course of action. This could be to:
  • Find out whether there are grounds to dispute the validity of a will
  • Investigate concerns that undue influence or fraud may have occurred
  • Resolve disputes between executors or beneficiaries
How it works?
A caveat is a legal document, lodged at the probate registry that prevents probate being granted. Anyone can enter in a caveat; all you need is the full name and last permanent address of the deceased and the date of death. You do not need a death certificate and do not need to be an executor or beneficiary.
When someone tries to apply to probate, they will be informed of the situation, given your details and urged to reach an agreement if possible.  The person applying for probate will have the opportunity to issue a ‘Warning’ to the caveator who will then have 8 days to respond. The response is known as an ‘Appearance’ and details the grounds as to why the Caveat has been issued. Failure to issue an appearance means the personal representative can apply to have the caveat removed.
Once in force, it is valid for 6 months and can be removed if parties reach an agreement but only if no ’Appearance’ has been entered in. In this case, the caveat may only be withdrawn by order of a Registrar. If no agreement is reached in the 6 months, it can be renewed. 

When it is appropriate?
Wherever necessary, it is always best to try to resolve minor disputes before entering in a caveat. If your concerns are of a serious nature, for example you have reason to believe the executor is not going to distribute the estate in accordance with the will; a caveat is your only course of action. It should be done immediately before the probate application has been submitted.

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