Trust me, I’m an Earl!

The Earl of Cardigan has reportedly had to admit defeat after undertaking a legal battle with Savernake Estate Trustees, who had been fighting for approval to sell the main property located within the estate that was the former ancestral home of the Cardigan family.

An unusual case; it all began when the house was left empty and in a serious state of disrepair.

The house in question was the Grade I listed Tottenham House, which stands proudly on the 4,500 acre Savernake Estate in Wiltshire. The property was originally gifted to the Cardigan family in 1067 by William the Conqueror.

The current house was not built until the early part of the 1800s, with the original design being constructed in 1721 by Lord Burlington for his brother-in-law, Lord Bruce. The house has since changed considerably in both style and size.

Having later been the family home of the Ailesbury family, who for a period of time shared it with the US Army during the Second World War, it has more recently been used by a preparatory school and was then leased to a charity.

Unfortunately since the early 1990s, it has lain empty and has deteriorated rapidly – a sad demise for this grand house steeped in rich history.

The current Earl of Cardigan, David Brudenell-Bruce, is allegedly a known beneficiary of the Savernake Estate Trust. However the estate’s trustees, Wilson Cotton and John Moore, control the majority of the Estate Trust (51%), with the Earl and his son, Viscount Savernake, owning the remaining share.

Following a recent High Court ruling, the Earl has had to admit defeat, as the final decision granted approval to the Trustees, which allowed them to proceed with the sale, as it was deemed to be in the best interest for all parties.

During litigation, conditions were stipulated that whoever was to purchase the property were obliged to sympathetically restore it.

The case became complex with accusations, arguments and even assault, as the Earl was adamant that the property should remain in the family.

In this instance, the Trustees were appointed by the Earl of Cardigan with the intention to protect the ancestral home from ever being sold. One of the appointed trustees was also once a long-term friend of the Earl, however their relationship has since soured.

As this case demonstrates, when appointed as a trustee, it is important to understand the required duties and responsibilities. Whether in a professional capacity or as a friend, both becoming and appointing a trustee are decisions that must not be taken lightly. In terms of probate, effective co-operation between the testator, trustees and beneficiaries is paramount.

What are the potential risks involved when becoming or appointing a trustee, and what level of responsibility do they hold when problems surface?

A trustee should not be put in a position where they have to make a decision alone, that could leave them open to risk. Ultimately if the testator decides to appoint a family member or friend then they must have an element of trust established to give someone that responsibility. As a professional you are obliged take this into consideration when advising on trustees, and this must be carried out with empathy.

For more information on trustees and best practice, please visit the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) website.

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