Families left at war over celebrity wills

Disputes over the wills of those in the public eye are becoming ever more prevalent. Celebrity estates of thousands or even millions of pounds are frequently becoming the centre of bitter disputes between family members, with asset distribution leading to rifts dividing those left behind.

Most recently reported as having a problem with a celebrity will is the son of the late Paul Daniels. The magician died in March of this year, leaving his estate worth £1.5 million to his wife, Debbie McGee.

Paul Junior has accused McGee – his stepmother – of failing to support him following his father’s passing. Junior, 56, claims she left him jobless after closing a shop set up by him and his father, as well as cutting off his phone contract, despite saying she would “look after him” and his brothers. Instead, he mentioned, “the only person she has looked after is herself”.

Junior became estranged from his father in the mid-1990s with the pair only reconciling when he was given a 12-month community order following a conviction of cultivating £89,000 worth of marijuana. He claims the event was something that allowed them to be “father and son again”. The relationship with his step-mother, however, remains strained and he stated that he no longer wants anything to do with her.

A spokesperson for Ms McGee had described the claims as “inaccurate”. Ms McGee now resides in the couple’s Berkshire home worth £2.5 million, which was transferred into her name prior to her husband’s death.

Commenting on the nature of conflict not being restricted to those in the public eye was Sally Pike. The Partner and Head of Family at Coffin Mew acknowledged that as people are living longer, multiple marriages and thus greatly extended families are becoming more common. Challenges to wills have naturally increased as a result.

“When making a will, it is important to give thought to the implications of how children from different marriages should be provided for, and that your wishes of what you want to happen and why are clearly recorded. A clear record of why a certain family member has been left out of the will may reduce the chances of a challenge to the will from the outset.”

Pike further highlights the ability for certain categories of person such as spouses, partners and children being able to dispute the will should they consider they have not properly been provided for. She does however call attention to the emotional nature of will disputes.

“I always advise people to think really carefully before proceeding. Once someone raises even the prospect of disputing the will, it immediately sets families against each other at a time when they are already distressed by the loss of a loved one.”

Lynda Bellingham’s estate was similarly the subject of such conflict. The former television star who passed away in October 2014 had debts of over £1.7 million, according to court documents released earlier this year. The original estimated value of the estate was £1.9 million, but information viewed by the press has reportedly revealed the actual figure is around £166,000. According to a wills and tax law specialist, the new findings truly indicate the level of conflict which was occurring in regards to the estate. The information compiled was within “the type of legal document that revealed the value of Ms Bellingham’s estate was issued only when there was a dispute over a will,” according to Andrew Kidd of Clintons Solicitors.

In a story previously covered by Today’s Wills & Probate, Bellingham’s son’s had been in a dispute with their step-father Michael Pattermore since her death. In a newly written will, the entirety of the estate had been left in Pattermore’s hands, with the qualification that her children were looked after. The sons subsequently disputed that from the £10 million estate their step-father has given them only £750, with the remainder being spent on Pattermore’s luxurious lifestyle.

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