/ Money

Are heir hunters cheating us out of our inheritance?

Vintage family photo

Heir hunters, firms that track down “missing” heirs, may promise an unexpected windfall. But their fees can leave you with far less than you’d otherwise be entitled to. Have you been approached by an heir hunter?

If you watch daytime TV, you’ve probably seen the BBC’s Heir Hunters programme. It’s compulsive viewing. Heir hunter firms race against the clock to find missing heirs to estates and claim some of the inheritance money for themselves in fees.

The programme’s appeal is similar to Who Do You Think You Are? since you learn about the genealogy involved in tracing the deceased’s family tree. However, there can be a darker side to the work heir hunters do.

Excessive heir hunter fees

A number of firms charge excessive fees, meaning heirs can end up paying way more than if they had been charged by the time spent actually tracing them and carrying out the administration involved.

We’ve heard of one firm charging as much as 40% plus VAT, which equates to £120,000 of a £250,000 estate. Yet, the work might have only cost a few thousand pounds if based on the time spent.

What’s more, some firms don’t reveal the name of the deceased or the value of the estate when getting the heir to sign the contract agreeing to their terms. This means that you don’t know how much you will end up paying if you sign and are not in a position to assess whether the fees are fair.

Your inheritance rights

If you know who the relative is, you can make the claim yourself. Even if you did nothing you could get your inheritance anyway, as the administrator of the will has a duty to make sure all the heirs to an estate get their money. Yet, some heir hunters may imply that you will only get it if you sign their contract.

To avoid your relatives being approached by heir hunters when you die, you should make a will and keep it up-to-date.

Firms might argue that they do valuable work in making sure people receive inheritances and that this is an unexpected windfall for most people. They might also say that they risk time and money tracing people who may not sign up – leaving them out of pocket. Still, is it really necessary to charge fees so much higher than would be charged on a time-spent basis?

What do you think? Would you be happy to pay a large fee for an unexpected windfall, or do you think some heir hunters are exploiting the general lack of knowledge around this area?

Maria says:
18 December 2013

Secret Heir Hunter, You would have to ask the Treasury Solicitor why this case was in their list of Bona Vacancia cases which is where we unfortunately, picked it up. We already knew that the natural daughter had been rejected by the Treasury Solicitor a) because she was adopted out of the family, and according to the laws of England if you are adopted out of your natural family then you do not inherit from that family but from the one that has adopted you. About the “Gift” the natural daughter did not present any witnesses to the Treasury just on her say so the Treasury Solicitor rejected that other claim of the gift as well for considering it hearsay and on this situation it’s only valid if there is no time for the person who is dying to make a will. So the Treasury Solicitor rejected her claim because the deceased had FOUR months before he died to make a will if he really intended to leave her the house. Now thanks to the ruling of this judge anyone out there can come up with a bunch of keys in a bag and claim an estate. No need to make a will folks ! Just present a bag with assorted keys and some medals and voila ! you get an estate and the ruling of the Treasury can be over ruled in a stroke by a senile judge.

There is no problem to have an opinion about the judge Secret Heir Hunter, I thought we live in a democracy with freedom of speech, I don’t think we live in totalitarian estate, this is the United Kingdom, so I stand by my opinion of the judge and if you live in the U.K. you will see that the newspapers are certainly not coy about publishing ludicrous rulings like this judge or another one who told a burglar that he had courage to go and steal other people’s property, so you are not scaring me with this one bit. In fact I hope the judge concerned gets to hear about what I think of him.

Maria says:
19 December 2013

Secret Hunter,

Cases where there are no wills end up at the Treasury Solicitor Office.In the above case, there was NO will.No Gift either. That was porkies. Otherwise the father would have made a will but he didn’t. Anyway, the brothers of the deceased who signed with us, didn’t get anything and neither did we.

sam watts says:
4 December 2014

Maria did the father only give the the “natural daughter” keys to the house, and not also the deeds?

Unless a different but very similar case I read the below

“Mrs Vallee, 63, insisted she had the right to her father’s home in Eldon Street, Reading, because he had handed her the keys and deeds shortly before his death, and had pledged that “he wanted her to have the house when he died”.

from http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/heir-hunters-expert-loses-out-4292594

I think a lot of people would view giving the deeds to someone, as giving them the property.

You say porkies as no will, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want her to inherit.
I don’t think many in this country realise adoption means you lose all rights to inheritance. That maybe why the father made no will as most people I know believe their children inherit automatically if theirs no will. In anycase he made no will in favour of the relatives found.

Even if he did know, maybe he thought it enough to give her the deeds. Who knows what he was thinking but as you say he was not dying in hospital so there was no urgency to create a will as he did not think he would die in 4 months.
I don’t think you are in a position to say with certainty what he was thinking just because their was no will.
He did give his daughter deeds to his house, which to me is a significant statement of intent to deed the property to his daughter

Maria says:
4 December 2014

Hello Sam Watts, The thing is that her claim had been REJECTED by the Treasury Solicitor who is the entity that had control of the estate which was intestate. The Treasury rejected her claim TWICE. The Treasury Solicitor’s argument was that she only presented herself with a bunch of keys and that she had NO witnesses either and the fact that she had been adopted out of her natural family. She applied twice to the Treasury and on both occasions her claim was rejected.

So the Treasury Solicitor put back this case on their list of unsolved cases, where we took it from and we did what we always do, which is to look for other heirs, as this one had been rejected by the Treasury Solicitor twice. This decision of her rejection had NOTHING to do with us – she should have had her quarrel with the Treasury. Anyway, we found the brothers of the deceased which the Treasury Solicitor accepted as proper heirs to the deceased. The house, which was the only “asset” for this estate, was in a terrible condition, there was a leak that had inundated the lower part of the house, turning it into a swimming pool, there were rats, where we had to employ vermin control, it had newspapers and junk going all the way up to the ceiling. Our company paid £8,900 to fix the leak – We still have the receipts ! and the council wanted to have an additional £10,000 for clearing up the property of all the rubbish as it had become a nuisance for the neighbours who had been complaining about the smell. We also secured the property, since the back door was ruined and the squatter who lived there, was sectioned and sent to a mental hospital. Anyway, we and another main company found the brothers of the deceased and it was at this point, when we were slapped with a law-suit by the twice rejected heir, in a decision that had been previously done by the Treasury Solicitor even before we got involved with this case. In a word, I was glad to get rid of it, since it turned out to be a lemon and we were also spared from having to pay the extra £10,000 to the council for clearing up the property and once the rejected heir took possession of it, it is now her responsibility to pay up any outstanding bills there still are.

heirhunting? says:
2 May 2018

Yes I know this is 4 years on.

The treasury solicitor may have rejected her claim to the estate, but the house was not part of the estate as her court case, and the heir hunter’s (dismissed) appeal established. The house was a gift and fell out of the estate.

Not clear which if any judge, was senile and ignored the law, as this case was appealed by the heir hunter to the High Court and dismissed, as such there was more than one judge who ruled in favour of the daughter. It appears that both judges considered the law of the land and legal precedents such as Sen V Headley.

If Maria is still around, could you tell us which laws were ignored and who was senile HHJ Harris or Jonathan Gaunt QC (or is this a mistake?)?

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

They may take a cut out of your inheritance but if it wasnt for them you might not have got anything at all and would have stayed with the Government instead. You pay for the fact that they have spent hours searching the deceased’s family tree in order for the money to go to people who it should go to. I would have no problem using them.

TheSecretHeirHunter says:
27 March 2014

Should Heir Hunters always offer a cooling off period when visiting potential clients?

Dave says:
27 March 2014

The contract has to. It will be 7 days.

TheSecretHeirHunter says:
28 March 2014

So who’s right? Tazz Gault’s interview @probingprobate with one company suggests you don’t need to and it’s not mandatory?

Dave says:
29 March 2014

I think consumer protection laws come into it. You are being sold a service.

magy says:
11 October 2014

My advice to any one who is approached by any heir hunter firm is to seek professional legal advice before sighing any of their documents or having anything to do with them.. As for their solicitors that they use .. what can I say the Heir Hunters solicitors use questionable practices and think nothing about taking over two years to drag out the administration of estates that should only take a maximum of six months to administer. These solicitors pay no regard for the deceits family and will stop at nothing to gain the administration rights of an estate whether it is large or small. This service should be regulated, yes people die intestate but remember that some people through no fault of their own are unable to make a will due to suffering from dementia. These people loose everything when they are alive and when they die these so called ‘Heir Hunters’ step in and take the rest of what they had. Heir Hunter claim to be doing a service for people but when you have lost touch with a family member through illness they are not interested in your feeling Heir Hunters and their solicitors are only interested in how much money they can screw out of the decease’s estate. My advice is if you are approached by any of these Heir Hunter firms do NOT sign anything they ask you to sign and lobby your MP to have this service regulated as these firms really are modem day ‘grave robbers’ and employ solicitors from Hell to carry out their administration of estates.

Susie Q says:
28 July 2015

Sorry magy, I accidentally gave you a[nother] thumbs down in seeking to find out who had given you the previous 6…anonymously 🙁 Whereas, I would actually have preferred to give you at least one resounding thumbs-up 🙂

Excellent advice and post, incidentally, which is one of the few if not only posts that seemed to be bang-on topic ~ “Are heir hunters cheating us out of our inheritance?” ~ in this murky and archaic area of consumer law and issues where many of the main players (the people tasking themselves with the job/service of ensuring a deceased person’s estate is administered who has, unfortunately for reasons which will always remain unknown, not only died intestate but, lost touch with relatives and/or quite probably never knew any existed), seem not only reluctant to be regulated like most if not all jobs and services are required to be in the 21st Century but, in a supposedly valiant attempt to protect Jo publics inheritance from going to the Treasury/Crown, choose to keep the secrets of their trade/profession closely guarded and would seem to prefer being dragged kicking, screaming, objecting and disagreeing amongst themselves about the practice of our modern day being to be transparent, open and above board. After all, this modern day way of practicing serves everyone, whereas secrecy serves no one but those who would seek to benefit from its’ application and only makes the murky even murkier (take all the cases of historic [sexual] abuse as a classic example of that…).

I totally agree with just about everything you have advised and said…NOW! (oh hindsight is a wonderful thing 😉 )…but, for one thing: I am reluctant to tar all Probate Researchers, Heir Hunters with the same brush and would hesitate, certainly at this moment, to say that they [all] “employ solicitors from Hell to carry out their administration of estates”. However, your post is nine and half months old so you may well have knowledge of something which I have yet to discover, as I am still at a stage of trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff in this industry of, as you rightly say and myself and my family have now realised “are modern day ‘grave robbers'(!)”

Thank you for your honest post, which I guess is based on experience ~ you can’t beat experience over knowledge, at least not in this discussion, and as for experience and knowledge combined, particularly of one’s own ancestry and heritage, what a powerful and empowering combination that is 😀

With best wishes to you,
Susie Q

Maria says:
22 October 2014

There are a number of people in this country who think they are entitled to something, for something. When they are told that they are the heirs of an estate, then they have four choices:

1.) They can try to find which case they are heirs on and prove their own claim all by themselves; 2.) Or they can engage a genealogical company to work on it; but they’ll have to pay them; or
3.) They can do nothing and let the Government have the money; or
4.) They can sign with the probate company who told them that they were heirs.

What on earth makes them think that companies who work out the relationships and trace the heirs, should do it all for nothing ? The mind can only boggle.

Maria says:
22 October 2014

We would love it if the estates could pay out the next day as we don’t get anything until the heirs get paid. So I really fail to see what the problem is. It really bothers me when ignorant people make the wrong assumptions because they don’t know a blind thing about this business.

Maria says:
22 October 2014

Those who are told they are heir to an estate, have four choices:

1.) They can try to find which case they are the heirs on and prove their claim all by themselves.

2.) They can engage a genealogical company to work on it, as well as their own solicitor but they’ll have to pay them.

3.) They can do nothing and let the Government have the money.

4.) Or they can sign with the company who told them that they were heirs.

What on earth makes them think that companies who work out the relationships and trace the heirs should do it for nothing?

We would love it if the estates could pay out the next day, as we don’t get paid until the heirs do. So I really fail to see what the problem is.

[Hi, this post has been edited to meet our commenting guidelines. Please refrain from making remarks of a personal or abusive nature. Thanks, mods]

The real problem with organisations like this is that they are aping the legal profession in running businesses that make more profit the less efficient they are. As long as any organisation makes more money the more efficient it is (such as most manufacturing) then these situations won’t exist.

The fact that law firms of any sort claim to administer justice (whatever that really is) and do so on a profit making basis is the root cause of this. I don’t know what the answer is, but there needs to be something done to correct this.

I am a probate genealogist based in Ireland, I work on hundreds of cases that involve persons dying intestate, all over the world. Most of my research involves Irish emigrants who die intestate in the UK. My main research is for a company that features in the “Heir Hunters” show.

99% of heirs traced do not have a problem signing a contract at an honest fee, they are going to receive a cheque that they would have never received. Our fees take into account all other cases where monies have been outlaid and entitled relatives were not found, that is business. I have a filing cabinet full of worthless BMD records, they cost hard cash.

I believe that the industry has regulated itself, if you step out of line you will be outed by the media, your reputation is worth everything in this business.

Maria says:
18 March 2015

We have had excellent feedback from the public on the last ‘ Heir Hunter’s ‘ show. Our company started the series with the view to educate the public about how this business works but I see that we still get ignorant and uninformed posters on this Which? magazine thread.

The Heir Hunter’s series on BBC 1 is so successful that is coming to its 10th year of production and has been exported to Australia and South Africa who have on several occasions seen us on T.V. even before they have signed their contracts with us and they know who we are, and what it takes to trace their whereabouts plus all their family, who they didn’t know it even existed. The series is not shown in the U.S. so most of the ignorant comments usually come from that country.

Andrew says:
19 February 2015

hope you don’t mind I found this thread. And thought best post here.
We recently found out a relative had left an unclaimed estate we were more than happy with the 20% fee and the probate firm linked with that. however we had a letter saying the insurance firm wouldn’t pay the probate firm they would only make the cheque out to the family member then
the firm wants us to send the full amount 40,000 back to them so they can deal with it.
when dad spoke with them bank today they basically told us to be very weary Dad’s offered to pay all the costs including the 20% fee etc upfront but this was rejected.

If we are unhappy with what the firm are suggesting are there options we can take out please?
its been a horrendous few weeks because the person who passed away we truly thought was living on the other side of the country there had been a falling out and sadly trying to repair things didn’t work so when the loss of contact occurred we just assumed it was down to that.

If there has not been contact and there has been a falling out, perhaps the deceased did not want to leave their estate to their relatives. In the circumstances it might be better that the money goes to the state, rather than letting lawyers benefit.

This looks highly irregular to me. Check at your local police station.

Maria says:
24 March 2015

Hi Andrew, I’m sorry to hear about your relative’s loss, it is very sad when family disagreements or misunderstandings are not solved before its too late.

My suggestion would be why don’t you just send the Probate firm the 20% agreed from the £40,000 that you have received ? After all, that was the agreement. It doesn’t matter if all the funds were received by yourself or the probate company, If they had received them, then they would have had to taken their 20% and send you the rest of the funds. It has been done the other way around.

The Probate firm must have a competent accountant who can explain to the tax people how they came across these funds. As you have signed their contract promising them 20% of what you get, it is your responsibility to honour that contract. Failure to do that, will mean the Probate firm can take you to court. I don’t see the problem.

Chardonbois says:
27 February 2015

Where the TS has appointed a firm of ‘heir hunters’ to act as administrators- is there not a clear conflict of interest? How can someone administer the estate objectively at the same time as trying to generate a 30% profit for themselves?

In such circumstances can a beneficiary ask to be dealt with by the company wearing their ‘administrators’ hat rather than their ‘heir hunters’ hat and pay no commission at all?

Maria says:
24 March 2015

Anyone can be an administrator of an estate, including one of the heirs in the same estate. Usually, the percentage a probate research company will charge, is between 10% to 20% if its higher than that, it usually means the heirs are abroad and another company of heir researchers has to get involved in the case to locate and contact them. For instance, if the heirs are in France, a French company will work on the same estate and they have to be compensated for their work.

Finally, to say that all Heir probate research companies charge 30% is false and misleading. I thought I had to correct you about that.

Susie Q says:
23 July 2015

I have a question or two to add, which I am hoping will be answered relatively expeditiously, and will try to lay out my circumstances as succinctly as possible:
1) the basic ‘history’ of my family, which led to a Probate Research firm contacting myself, my 2 sisters and our only cousin out of the blue just over 3 years ago [with the same letter] asking us to contact them and saying we “may be missing beneficiaries” in a recently deceased relatives estate, is that our late paternal grandfather (only ever known to our uncle, who was the eldest brother of 3 children, or our respective parents ~ our father, who was the middle child, and our Aunt/our cousins mother who was the youngest ~as he had died in the 1930’s before they had married) had left the family home in the North of England in the late 1800’s at the age of 17 due to some sort of family ‘argument’/disagreement/rift and ended-up in Middlesex where he became a book-keeper, became a lodger with what was subsequently to become his future in-laws family, which is how he met our gran. Although the family subsequently moved back to the North of England when our respective parents were young (our Uncle being 11, our father 7 and our Aunt 3) and our Aunt remembering being taken by our gran as a young girl to ‘see’ our grandfather’s family in an attempt to heal the family ‘rift’, this ‘visit’ was apparently fruitless and our family lost all trace of the rest of the family, certainly on our paternal grandfather’s side. Our father was always quite wistful whenever he talked about his family history: always saying that he remembered from having lots of Uncles and Aunts in Middlesex, it was as if they all disappeared off the face of the earth, so maybe another rift developed on our gran’s side of the family which caused them to move back North. Our cousin has inherited all the family photo’s from our aunt, including our late paternal grandfather’s family ~ he had an older and younger brother that we knew about and have photo’s of ~ and we’ve often poured over them when together, particularly when our aunt was alive as she was the family ‘archive’ and ‘historian’. 🙂
2) Moving forward rapidly, having become interested in doing some of my own research on tracing the family tree myself as I grew-up listening to my father’s and aunt’s accounts of what sounded like a colourful and interesting family history some years earlier, I got even more involved in this when my [late] daughter signed on to a course with the Adult Learning Services in tracing your family tree as part of her identity, due to her father never wanting to know this. It was fascinating and satisfying, as we not only managed to get 4 generations back on her father’s side of the family without any input from him(!) but, we also managed to 4 generations back on both sides of both my parents ~ although I do recall when I was younger our maternal grandfather had done a lot of work on his family tree and had even had a proper family tree made out by a firm [of ? genealogists] in the 1960’s, and the paperwork from his searching helped there.
3) We did discover from this, that: our paternal grandfather had also had another younger brother; couldn’t find any trace of his younger brother’s having married; and found that his eldest brother had emigrated to New York in 1900/1901 and subsequently married someone from the North of England in New York. Unfortunately, with the 1901/last census information, there the trail went cold and, as we’d already spent a fair amount of time and money on the venture ~ going further than we could have imagined, with the only other option being to go to Parish Records to get any further back or spend a lot more money getting any further forward.
4) Since then, a lot has happened: our Aunt had already died a few years before; our father died not that long after we finished the searching, though I was able to print-out a listed version of our family tree from his side and go through that with him before he died, showing him all his ‘missing’ Aunts and Uncles, which he was very happy with; our mother died 4 years later; and, the utter devastation for me, 3 months later my beautiful daughter was killed in a road traffic collision 🙁 That was 8 years ago…
4) Just over 3 years ago, when my 2 sister’s and I were together staying in Portugal, I happened to mention I’d got a letter from an Estate Research company saying I may well be a “missing beneficiary”…and, after finding out that my sister’s had also been contacted and checking out the company’s website which seemed kosher, we contacted our cousin and she had also had the same letter. As she doesn’t have access to the internet and nor does she use the internet or communicate in this way, she’d phoned to check it out and found out it was indeed kosher. So we all signed-up, although the details given were minimal to start with: all we knew was that a cousin of our late parents (the son of our late paternal grandfather’s youngest brother) who we never even knew existed due to something which had taken place many, many years before we were even born had recently died, apparently ‘intestate’. I spoke with the researcher handling the case/who’d contacted us, first from Portugal and then once I got home and had access to the family tree stuff my daughter and I had done and, in fact, during the latter conversation, naively gave him information about our grand-uncle being married in New York which he had previously not known about….he said he’d only managed to trace him to New York and then the trail had gone cold. At that time (March 2012) he gave the time-frame as being at least 6 months and most likely a year but, we would be kept informed. We [all] also agreed to sign-up for the company to take [what we thought] was 20% and were told that, whatever the outcome, we would each receive a family tree. Other than that, because our cousin had been the first to contact the firm, she had been designated the family ‘appointee’ through which all future letters and communication [for us all] in relation to ‘progress in the case’ would be sent to and fed.
5) The case dragged-on and dragged-on, with minimal contact/communication [with our cousin]from the Researcher: Social Services alerted some Authority to a handwritten will which they knew of and thought “the old man” had been coerced into making by neighbours leaving everything to them; the only ‘family tree’ our cousin was sent for ‘verification’ was on scarps of paper and had numerous inaccuracies (names misspelt, dates wrong, including our paternal grandparents having married over a year after our Uncle was born!); the Estate Researcher handed the case over to a firm of Solicitors after about 12 months (we had no choice in the matter) and our cousin was told/instructed she would now be dealing with them; it’s all been through Probate and the handwritten will that was found has been disproved; about a year after the Solicitors took over, we all got letters asking us to take documentation to a local Solicitors for authorisation; whenever we’ve got together with our cousin or spoken with her, we’ve all agreed it’s like something going on in a parallel universe, that anything is a bonus (we’ve known for over a year that the estate was worth over £220,000, which we had always been led to believe would be divided equally between us); all 4 of us have always said, because of the family history, we can’t wait to get the ‘proper’ family tree; our lovely benefactor (our 1st cousin) had already been cremated before we were traced, his ashes have now been interred in a local cemetery and we’d already discussed earlier this year that, in the Autumn, “once the money comes through”, we’re going to have a family ‘pilgrimage’ together back to our ‘family home’, visit our benefactor’s resting place and, hopefully, explore and visit some more of our family history (places they lived, the cemetery’s they’re interred in, etc.); being the closest to where the Solicitors are based, I went and collected an old suitcase of paper’s belonging to our grand-uncle along with a polythene bag with other paperwork, mainly from his service in the Army, connected to our 1st cousin, last summer (June) and when my sister’s and I were going through them (our cousin hasn’t had a chance yet as she’s in the South and I’m in the North but, we’ve discussed the contents at length) we were overwhelmed (our late grand-uncle had been a psychotherapist, a published author on the subject and had, obviously, been ahead of his time: there was a manuscript for a book and various papers in the suitcase where he discusses and challenges Freud, religion, racism and relationship issues such as divorce) and it was so sad to think that this and the plastic bag of papers were all that was visibly left of 2 relatives who we never knew (our father, particularly, would have loved to have known that he had cousin living not that far from him and our aunt and uncle would likewise have loved to have known they had a cousin…for all 3 to have got to know him…); my sisters and I were sent all the paperwork by our cousin last year and took copies because, every time our cousin was in contact with the Solicitors, which she did so through a monthly phone call for an up-date, she’d be told either that there was nothing new to report or they were waiting on this bit of finalisation (missing beneficiaries indemnity) or that bit of finalisation (missing will indemnity) and we all agreed that, apart from the fact the Researcher had done a pretty poor job, someone seems to be ‘dragging it out’; we’ve all had to sign a document for the Solicitor earlier this year who said the estate was nearing completion; and the last time we all spoke at the beginning of last month, we agreed that it was about time we sent a joint letter asking them that we had concerns. We drafted the letter, I agreed I would type it up and send it to our cousin for her to approve and send.
6) Fortunately or unfortunately, I was delayed in doing that due to other things I am dealing with (mainly overwhelming, unresolved grief for my daughter and health issues) and the final letter of distribution with the estate account (which seems to be all in order and with the solicitor’s fees, considering the work they’ve had to put in, seeming quite reasonable…i.e. they’ve done way more than the researcher) came through from the Solicitor’s last week. To our shock, including our cousin:
a) our cousin’s share [of an estate totalling just over £232,000] is a 1/2 or just over £88,000;
b) my 2 sister’s and I each receive 1/6 (£29,397 each);
c) the Estate Researcher receives “24% thereof” from each of us totalling £55,699.57
7) Our cousin, on querying this with the Solicitors (n.b. we were all expecting an EQUAL share and it has NEVER been indicated by anyone that this would NOT be the case) was obviously told by them “the rules/laws on intestacy” and how it is “divided” up (our Uncle died in the mid 1960’s leaving no issue);
8) My sister’s are more inclined to just ‘accept’ the law as it stands and, knowing what we would do if we were in the same position as our cousin, wait and see if she offers to divide some of hers so that we all come out of this more equally as we’d all certainly believed would be the case (n.b. we still have no proper family tree, though my cousin has taken this up with the Solicitor, all direct contact with the researcher having ceased about 2 years ago);
9) Myself being of a more enquiring and sometime ‘cynical’ mind as well as being very strong on fairness, equality and justice (I’ve been ‘stabbed in the back’ by a solicitor I though was acting for me many years ago and, particularly since my daughter was killed [as a pedestrian] and I never got justice for her, I do know the law [in many ways] is an ‘ass’, that there is very little ‘justice’ actually dispensed where it should be, I frequently question things when things don’t seem ‘right’ or ‘fair’), decided to do my own ‘research’ and delving into this: of course I know, now, about “per stirpes” distribution, the difference between that and “per capita” distribution. I understand how those distributions work, even when the relationship to the deceased is ‘equal’. I also know that it has been discussed by some form of joint international committee because of it’s unfairness and the divisiveness for families and beneficiaries. I also understand that the UK has ‘chosen’ to keep this archaic law in use and retain it as “per stirpes” in cases of intestacy, rather than adopting the fairer (to my mind, anyway) per capita rule when a deceased’s wishes could not possibly be known. Finally, I also now know about [the] “making a deed of family arrangement or variation” which is supposed to be made “within two years of the death”, my guess being that this was to ‘compensate’ for the divisive nature of per stirpes distribution.

My main questions being from all this are:
1) Surely somebody had a moral, if not legal, obligation to inform us of both the per stirpes distribution much earlier on AND the fact that a “deed of family arrangement or variation” could be made and to be informed of the latter within the time frame?
2) If so, who had that obligation ~ the Estate Researcher or the Solicitor?
3) What can be done about this NOW?

I appreciate any reply(s)…

I think you are asking rather a lot of the contributors to this website to deal with your extremely complex enquiries. I suspect that even the professional lawyers and genealogical researchers who have occasionally joined in this Conversation would hesitate to step into your investigation voluntarily because although you have provided a lot of background information there is bound to be a lot more detail to be extracted from you and your relatives before any definitive answers could be given.

Your concern seems to be about the unbalanced outcome of applying the UK’s intestacy rules which rely on a per stirpes distribution [which divides the inheritance by branch of the family] rather than on a per capita distribution [which allocates the inheritance so that recipients in each generation receive equal shares]. Personally I do not believe that the UK’s policy is inherently unfair, but I would not expect that someone who is disadvantaged by it would agree with me. Your specific questions suggest that you think there has been a failure of diligence and duty of care by the people who have acted for you and that you would like to alter the situation in your favour [which you appreciate could be to the disadvantage of other beneficiaries]. Effectively, you, possibly without the support of your two sisters, would be fighting your cousin over a substantial slice of her inheritance. In rough terms, if you were successful, she would lose half her money [£45,000] and you and your two sisters would each receive half as much again [an extra £15K each]. Since your cousin has a lot to lose, and your two sisters have, apparently, acquiesced in the outcome, you are not in a strong position and the question is really whether you give up gracefully now or battle on entirely at your own expense in a hostile action that will not leave the family in a good place afterwards, whatever the result.

Alternative opinions are no doubt available.

Maria says:
26 July 2015

Dear Susi Q.

As the last poster above said, an inheritance should be seen as an unexpected windfall in someone’s life, it is like winning the lottery, since you have not worked a day to get it.

The intestacy laws have been in place for centuries whereby the older generation always gets more money as they are closer kin to the deceased that the younger generation and they might even have known the deceased.

My advice to you is to go and enjoy your newly found windfall. Go on a holiday, have a spa treatment, do whatever it takes to bring a smile to your face and most important of all, you definitely need to see a psychologist to help you deal with the loss of your daughter.

Your relationship with your cousin, is much more important than money. If you enter into a legal quarrel with them, you will not only lose your newly found windfall by having to pay attorneys fees and court costs but you are also going to lose the support and love of your family since they are likely to side with your cousin too, as the law, is on your cousin’s side. It will also cause you added grief and turmoil that you definitely don’t need in your life.

With all my best wishes,

I write in support of this comment. The only differences between suing someone and getting a gang of hooligans to “knock them over” is that the former is supported by the government and the latter not. The former is more financial violence rather than physical violence, although physical violence can result from a lawsuit if one of the parties resorts to it or the court bailiffs are employed to enforce a judgement. There is nothing nice about it.

There are undoubtedly times when a lawsuit is the only option, but it really must be a last resort. Often the costs in terms of fees, sales taxes, sleepless nights, health degradation and so on is far in excess of the recompense you may receive.

Conscientious lawyers will always to their best to dissuade family members from suing each other, and they know that taking both parties to the suit (ie the family) as a single financial unit, the only winners are the legal profession as a whole and the VAT office.

Susie Q says:
31 July 2015

Hi John and thank you for your reply, which I found very concise and easy to follow, though I think you had misunderstood my reasons for seeking advice here ~ i.e. I have no intention of taking any [action] myself against my cousin or that would involve my sisters, whether it was to re-allocate the share of this deceased relative who none of sadly knew about or not ~ but, I think perhaps that was as a result of my own preceding, quite lengthy explanation(!) of the family history leading up to us being contacted. I apologise for this but, thank you, again, for being able to see through to the bigger picture.
It was in fact your saying clearly about how per stipes is applied ~ “per stirpes distribution [which divides the inheritance by branch of the family] rather than on a per capita distribution [which allocates the inheritance so that recipients in each generation receive equal shares].” ~ which made me realise that this had been applied wrongly in our case, which is something we had all thought all along (n.b. our cousin was as shocked as my sisters and I to find that she had been allocated so much more but, when it was explained to her by the solicitors who had carried out the distribution and who had ? been instructed by the Probate Research company who approached us/[I now] ? whether they had the case from the start and actually brought in the Probate Research to do their ‘leg work, she took it as ‘given’ as many do and my sisters also have a tendency to do (not that many people, imho, actually question lawyers/solicitors who are supposed to ‘acting’ for us or for our ‘benefit’ and trust them to get the law and its’ application right…I’m afraid I am not one of them and, whilst not falling into the trap of tarring all with the same brush, if I have a [gut] feeling something isn’t ‘right’, I follow that up with my own lines of further enquiry!). Thus, I did that after reading your reply.
I tracked-down [on the HHA website] about the Milton Estate: http://www.heirhunters-association.org.uk/index2.php?view=milton whose estate was distributed as per the intestacy rules and per stirpes distribution.
From that, I printed out and studied the distribution of the estate on both the paternal side of his family: http://www.heirhunters-association.org.uk/mitton/mitton_paternal.htm
as well as the maternal tree: http://www.heirhunters-association.org.uk/mitton/mitton_maternal.htm

Additionally, I also found a UK Government Law Commission Document: ‘Intestacy and Family Provision Claims on Death’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/247168/1674.pdf), which I studied carefully and from which I take the following quote and it’s relevant footnote:

“4.12 Some other jurisdictions adopt per capita distribution; there are two main forms.
One form adopts the per stirpes approach as a general rule, except where all
members of the preceding generation have predeceased, in which case an equal
division is made between the members of the following generation.6”

[from footnotes] “6 One equal share is allocated to each surviving member of that following generation and to
each member who predeceased leaving one or more descendants, being divided among
those descendants in accordance with per stirpes distribution.”

We (all 4 of us) are in some ways very similar to the Milton case in that it was our parents (mine and my sisters father and our cousins mother, who were brother and sister, both of whom have been deceased for a number of years) were our deceased relatives 1st cousin, he (our lovely benefactor, who was sadly unknown to any of us) was also related to our parents on our paternal grandfather’s side ~ i.e. His and our parents father were brothers and our great-grandfather was his [and our parents] grandfather. However, in our case, the maternal side of his family would seem to have died out, as there is certainly no trace. Thus, as there is no other issue on either side of the family and all ancestors have long-since died out, that leaves the 4 of us ~ exactly the same branch of the family, who are the sole benefactors as per 6 above “where [all
members of the preceding generation have predeceased, in which case] an equal
division is made between the members of the following generation.”

I met with one of my sisters yesterday and handed her this paperwork I had collated and also, because I had done extensive family tree work myself with my late daughter, was able to draw a relevant family tree as per the Milton case but, not quite as neat(!), including with how the distribution should have been made.

However, it has taken me a second look at this and reading the extract from the government document above to fully realise what has been done by these [incompetent] Solicitors: they have basically allocated our cousin her mother’s half share and shared our father’s half share out (1/6 each) between my sisters and I as if either our cousin was a generation above us (her mother?)and my sister’s and I are a generation below. It is only if one of us had pre-deceased our children, should it have been divided, again, from equal shares. As I contacted the Solicitors who have been dealing with this to ask the above 2 questions from my original post the day after posting (n.b. I thought at that time it was the Probate Researcher’s who were at fault and indeed that’s what they intimated…ahha!), since which they have been strangely silent whilst having promised to get back to me, I definitely smell a ‘rat’. We still await the promised proper family tree, too, though there again the Probate Research Company has been strangely silent for over 2 years now 🙁

This will be put in the hands of a trusted family Solicitor (we’ve all made a will btw, as did our parents, 😀 so there will be no repeats in our family…I actually made one through Will Aid…a great scheme…after my daughter was killed) and we remain a united and close family, despite much and forever missed members.

Thank you so much, again, John for your to-the-point reply, which helped me work this out ~ much appreciated.

With Kind Regards,
Susie Q

Thank you Susie Q. I think you are wise to place the matter in the hands of your family solicitor who hopefully will untangle it for you. I am not questioning your reasoning over the distribution of the estate but, since you are so close to it, it pays to have an independent mind on the case – especially since you need to be satisfied that the other cases you have read about really are precedents for your own and don’t have hidden elements that distinguish them and justify different treatment. I hope it all turns out well for you and your family.

As far as I can understand your predicament you have three options.

(a) You can continue to pursue your case through legal procedures and prolong the situation resulting in even more mental anguish and possible financial loss.

(b) You can write a book about your experience (you have already made a start by posting this on Which? Covo) which will help to divert some of the grief you will always feel to a greater or lesser degree from losing your daughter so tragically and will perhaps recoup some of the “missing and unfair” inheritance.

(c). Give all the money away to a charity that will help others in your situation who have also lost a son or daughter and be free of the added and heightened unease this inheritance has no doubt caused you by a long lost great uncle who died intestate.

Letting go of a situation that you feel so strongly about can be a long and sometimes painful process and is not always easy but life is short and eventually there comes a realization that it is better to accept a smaller portion of the cake than you would otherwise have preferred.

Susie Q says:
1 August 2015

Hello Beryl,

I believe you have totally misread/misunderstood my post* (*see my reply to John Ward, above*) as it was not “a long lost great uncle who died intestate” but, our parents (my sisters and my father’s and our cousins’ mother who were brother and sister) [1st] cousin.

With respect, your reply is, thus, irrelevant as I believe I am old enough and mature enough, with a wide range of knowledge and experience of life (n.b. I am a pensioner btw!…though not with that much pensionable time behind me 😀 ), to make my own decisions re what is the best way forward in this matter for us as a family. I am afraid I will, therefore, be discounting your post but, thank you for taking the time to ‘respond’.

With best wishes,
Susie Q

Susie Q – Your complex and protracted above post ended with the words “I appreciate any reply(s)…” I am not aware there was anything in my reply to you which stated that you were not old enough or mature enough, with a wide range of knowledge and experience of life to make your own decisions re what is the best way forward in this matter for you as a family. Nevertheless, you have still chosen, it would appear, to go down the route of my suggested option (a) by putting the matter into the hands of your family solicitor whom I sincerely hope can bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion and I wish you the very best of luck with your endeavours.

My apologies for misinterpreting your great uncles son as your great uncle. He is (was) of course
your 1st cousin once removed, (your parent(s) being 1st cousins.)

I agree with the other two contributors here. What follows may be harsh, but it seems to me to be the facts.

It is probably best to regard any inheritance as a surplus to someone’s life, rather than a right of ownership, per stirpes or per anything else.

It is particularly difficult when someone has lived with the deceased and is then told to “leave with nothing”, and I think legislation by parliament may make some provision for this. But it would seem to me to be just causing trouble to expect specific inheritances from people you don’t even know. Anyone offered one would be best advised to accept what is offered and leave it at that.

Susie Q says:
1 August 2015

I’m a little perplexed by your reply John de Rivaz, to say the least. None of us “[has] lived with the deceased” and nor have any of us been “[then] told to [or that we would have to] “leave with nothing”. Neither, for that matter, are any of us (my cousin and my sisters and I) “just causing trouble” or expecting “specific inheritances from people we don’t even know”. Please read my original post, again, where you will see that I gave a family ‘history’ ~ albeit a shortened version, believe it or not ~ in which I clearly explain our whole family sadness at our ancestors* (*late paternal grandfather who died before our parents ~ mine and my sisters’ father and our cousins’ mother, who were brother and sister ~ never mind before we were even born!*) ‘rift’ with and separation from his family of origin well over a Century ago, which led to all of us very sadly not being able to know our extended family.

With respect, none of us are the ‘money grabbing’ “people” you seem to portray us to be and where you got this idea, I haven’t a clue. Again, please re-read my original post and also, most importantly, please read my reply to John Ward, above, before you give ‘advice’ or pass ‘judgement’. ~ Thank you.

Susie Q

I am sorry my comment didn’t more clearly distinguish between you particular case and the general. It was also influenced by the newspaper report about lawyers setting aside a bequest to animal charities. Once again apologies for any confusion caused.

Maria says:
2 August 2015

Dear Susie Q.

I can also trace my family all the way to William the conqueror who gave lands to my great-great-great and beyond ancestors in Huntingdon but that doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to those lands that were given to them a long, long. long time ago but if a Probate Researcher company, all of a sudden wrote me a letter telling me that I could claim it as mine, I would happily sign their agreement and pay their fees if they are successful in getting me those lands.

A Probate Research company conducts a speculative work on which the company is venturing their resources and doing a lot of work without the guarantee of payment. They make a family tree and then do the detective work of trying to find the whereabouts of the family who they think MAY have a claim. They never guarantee that the outcome will be successful since a myriad of unexpected things can happen.

a) The estate has so many debts that there is NOTHING else to distribute to the heirs
b) A will is found

c) A closer relative is found ( like a child of the deceased )

d) The estate is too small and there are too many relatives to give it too.

e) All the branches on both sides of the family are dead.

Probate researchers also known with the more derogative term ( Heir hunters ) do work for their money and many times, that work goes unpaid, since as I mentioned above, it is a speculative work.


People who are still reading this thread may also be interested in the recent series of law cases where an appeal has weakened the freedom of citizens to leave assets to who they want to by way of Last Will and Testament.
and on the dark web:
(subscription required)

Maria says:
28 July 2015

Yes John, I read that one about the will. It is rather arrogant in a way, for a judge to take it upon himself to contradict the will of a deceased person after all we are all entitled to give our money and assets to whomever or whatever charity we wish to give it to. I have the feeling, that the daughter presented a sob story in court and the judge fell for it, but in reality. it would appear that the daughter didn’t care a hoot about her mother since they hadn’t seen each other over 40 years and so the mother left all her money to some worthy charities, and why not ? It seems to me that her mum could have had some help in her older years but she got no love, no nothing, only aggravation from this daughter.

With the new laws that they want to introduce of assisted death, there will be pressure on the frail to die soon, so that the greedy crows in the family can get their hands on their cash !.

Two courts [High Court and Court of Appeal] have accepted an apparent injustice in the will, the first level awarding the daughter £50,000 and the Appeal Court raising the provision to one third of the estate’s value [£164,000]. The High Court judge was female and the presiding judge in the Appeal Court, who delivered the judgment, was female. There were three judges in the Appeal Court so it was not one judge “taking it upon himself to contradict the will of a deceased person”.

Ordinarily, somebody who deliberately and purposefully leaves their entire estate to three animal charities, with whom they have had no previous connexion, to the total exclusion of their next of kin, might be considered not to be of “sound mind and judgment”. But in this case the mother, no doubt anticipating a challenge, left with the will a written explanation and justification for her decision so it was not a rash or unconsidered act. Both Courts took the view that notwithstanding the mother’s stated grounds for her action it was perverse and needed to be remedied in order to make ‘reasonable provision’ for her daughter. It all seems to hang on the fact of kinship rather than the strength or evidence of it, as well as subconsciously on the size of the estate and the totality of the exclusion of the daughter as indicative of malice [the mother had effectively alienated her daughter many years previously], and on the choice of beneficiaries as adding insult to the injury where perhaps human welfare charities might have been less objectionable. It will be interesting to see whether the three animal charities concerned, RSPCA, RSPB, and Blue Cross, join forces to take the case on to the Supreme Court.

Personally I think the judgment was all too subjective and inherently unsustainable. Certainly it weakens the deterministic concept of a will that is as important as a declaration of the intentions of the deceased for who it cuts out as for who it includes. Hitherto it had been assumed that the legal requirement to make ‘reasonable provision’ for children in a parent’s will was intended to ensure that minors were not negligently or capriciously or maliciously disinherited. I also think this judgment will lead to further challenges to wills from people who feel hard done by, and a tendency for the courts to interfere in people’s entitlement to dispose of their wealth as they think fit.

Maria says:
30 July 2015

John, that is what the daughter claims, the deceased is not here to say if that was true or not. The judges took the word of the daughter who wanted to cash in her mother’s money. The mother is the only one who knew her daughter well, anticipating that the daughter would challenge her will, the mother even made provisions to avoid this and her wishes were ignored by arrogant judges who do not know this daughter and have fallen hook, line and sinker !

In my own family, my father wrote to all his children to say that he was disinheriting one of my sisters because she never contacts him despite the many loving letters he had written to her. I know that in his heart of hearts my dad didn’t want to go through that route, as all his children are dear to him. I urged my sister to write him a letter to which she just replied to me that she didn’t need any of his money, that everything she has, she has made it through her hard work. I told her it had nothing to do with money but the fact that she was bringing unnecessary grief to our father and disharmony in our family. She just wrote him a nasty letter saying she didn’t need his money. I told her to please read in between the lines. I wrote her that our dad wants and longs for your love, not your insults and strangeness. The situation between them is very strained. My sister is a very difficult woman. I don’t know what provisions my Dad will do, but it won’t surprise me if he does disinherit her and that she will later on will want to quarrel it in court for her share. despite the warnings dad has given her. If she is disinherited she will do it, to be the centre of attention not because she is in need of any money but like that daughter they are master manipulators of dumb and retarded judges. I’m afraid in the U.K. we have a lot of those senile judges. They should test their I.Q and common sense before they get to be judges.

BTW that ill judgment in one of our cases, has now been annulled for good. It is too late for us but at least now people will not be able come out in their thousands, claiming estates without a will. I’m talking about the gift supposedly being given by a deceased person without a will. That has fortunately been cancelled out ! The attorneys for the woman in questioned were the ones who informed us about it, since another person came up with the same idea, using our case as an antecedent but it all backfired for them. Good ! and the gift law was abolished for ever. It would have opened the gateway for every crook in the land.

I think the onus in this case lies with the solicitor who assisted the deceased mother in making her will if, in fact, she did draw up a will through a solicitor.

In making a will it is important to tell your solicitor about your relationship with your intended beneficiaries both good and bad and all of the circumstances that could prevent the distribution of your wealth going to where you would like it to go following your death. For example, a beneficiary may have already spent their `expected inheritance` in anticipation of your passing before you have actually expired as a result of their continuing and irrational spending practices. The beneficiary may be disabled or have mental health problems where it may involve a trust fund which could be set up with a solicitor, appointing an executor to manage any estranged son/daughters access to your estate which would make it more difficult for them to challenge A reputable solicitor will also advise on whether it prudent to leave your life savings or a portion of it to an animal charity or charities with all of the ramifications that could follow.

Without knowing all of the facts of the relationship between a parent and their offspring it is difficult to form an opinion. Suffice to say that is not at all uncommon for family relationships to break down and having spent many years working in mental health services and seeing the result of some of these breakdowns and what it can do to people, unless you are made aware of the circumstances of each individual case, you are not in a position to question the final verdict(s) made, in this particular case, by not only one but three judges.

Maria says:
2 August 2015

Hi Beryl

I think you are right. The onus is with the Solicitor who helped the mother to draw the will, and as you say, ” a beneficiary may have already spent their ‘ expected inheritance ‘ in anticipation of your passing before you have actually expired as a result of their continuing and irrational spending practices ”

I think the mother knew her daughter better than all those three judges put together.

With respect to

> I think the mother knew her daughter better than all those three judges put together.

This is the case with all professional relationships. The customer is an expert in their own affairs, whether it is health or government compliance. All the professional can do is to take symptoms or evidence and give advice thereon about things the customers can’t be expected to know.

All well and good, but the problems arise when the nature of the advice can affect the professional’s income. They would have to be a saint not to colour their advice, even if only slightly, and only subconsciously.

Also they get work for their friends, as anyone buying a house recently has found out. At one time it was just a survey, but now you need lots of specialist reports as well. Surprise, surprise, many of these reports recommend lots of other reports or work to be done before you can get a mortgage. No wonder buying or selling a house is so stressful that people end up in hospital over it. Yet the people that are making money by making it stressful seem unconcerned, as are the population of this democratic country.

As Richard Dawkins pointed out in his book The Selfish Gene, the legal profession as a whole works in an environment where the practitioners each apparently work in opposition each to benefit their own clients, but in reality are cooperating to maximise the income of their profession as a whole. [Chapter 12]

The difficulty with wills and probate is, that the government has enacted very complicated laws that people have to pay a serious amount of money to get interpreted for them. The government collects VAT from this process. It would be like if in driving, you have to obey speed limits but are charged every time you read a sign to see what they are.

With regards to

>> The beneficiary may be disabled or have mental health problems where it may involve a trust fund which could be set up with a solicitor, appointing an executor to manage any estranged son/daughters access to your estate which would make it more difficult for them to challenge <<

Has anyone any idea as to what this would cost to set up and run? Not only are there solicitors' fees (+VAT) there would be banker's fees (+VAT) for a special trustees' account, accountants' fees (+VAT) and if stocks were involved brokers' fees (+VAT). Half a million may seem a large amount, but once this lot is taken out of taxed income there would be precious little income left for the hapless beneficiary. I have had it on good authority from a chartered accountant that few trusts set up under such conditions last very long, but I suppose if the beneficiary is allowed to draw down on the capital it may last long enough. I am not sure what happened to the thousands of pounds (+VAT) in fees as the trust capital gets very low towards the end of its life, though. Presumably the amount of work with due diligence remains the same, so the fees (+VAT) remain the same, and in the last year the trust is bankrupt and the fee earners only get so much in the pound.

Given that these are compliance costs, I do think that there is a case for the government to set the VAT penalty on these activities to the minimum permitted by the European Community.

Hi Maria. Perhaps I am too gullible but I do not have such a cynical opinion of the capacity and competence of our top judges. I think they are very good at getting to the bottom of the stories that they are told. I happen to think, though, that in the particular case their desire to do a bit of moral repositioning in the name of social justice got the better of them and I can’t believe their judgment will endure as a binding precedent.

Incidentally, I checked the ages of the Appeal Court Judges and they are 68, 58 and 71. I could find no information on the extent to which they might be “dumb” or “retarded” but since I am also 68 I have to accept it is a possibility and I can certainly be accused of senile delinquency at times [although I try hard to prevent it affecting my judgment].

Maria says:
2 August 2015

Hi John,

I’m not tarring all the judges by the same brush !There are indeed many fine intelligent judges too but as you can see from the ones who regularly appear in our newspapers with outlandish rulings, it makes you wonder what qualities these so called judges have in order to become judges.

John perhaps I should not have been too age discriminatory since there are also many young people who do not have an iota of common sense too. As Espinoza once said, common sense is the least common of the senses.

I do like judge Rinder who appears on T.V. Judge Rinder even tries to reconcile the warring parties and he makes sure to get the moral background of both parties too. He is sensible enough to realise if the litigation is done as some kind of emotional revenge or… if there are legitimate legal grounds for the claimant to bring about a law-suit. He also informs them about the law, what is possible and what is not possible to do within the law. This programme is well worth watching as I can see that a lot of the times, the plaintiffs bring in, nonsensical cases that do not merit a law-suit but the judge still reads every single word carefully in a lot of these non cases, that to be frank, I don’t think I would have the patience to read, let alone explain why they are not viable. I have become a fan of judge Rinder.

Thank you Maria. I am afraid that to my shame I had to look up Judge Rinder. His cases have eluded me thus far but I see they are currently being shown in the afternoons on ITV2 so I might record tomorrow’s episode.

Generally I think litigation is best avoided and the more emotionally involved in the issue the applicant is the more troublesome it can be. However, the civil courts are here to help people settle their differences and unexpected outcomes can emerge. Through relations I happen to know a couple of District Judges who preside in provincial courts. From what I understand they first had to be excellent and long-serving practitioners at the Bar or as solicitors before being appointed judges and there is a never-ending process of training and development to ensure they keep up to date with the law, case law, and precedents. Also, they are not so detached from real life as the media make out. The more I have discovered about the recent disinheritance case, and the reasoning behind the judgment, the more respect I have had for the outcome [even though I still think it is open to challenge and that it would be good for it to go to the Supreme Court where it can be fully tested].

Perhaps equally shamefully I didn’t have to look up Spinoza but he is not my philosopher of choice. He is cited by the author P.G. Wodehouse as the source of much of the wisdom of Jeeves, the gentleman’s personal gentleman attached to Bertie Wooster who gets his master out of all manner of social scrapes and difficult situations.

Maria says:
2 August 2015

Hello John,

I think the case about the inheritance should be challenged at the Supreme Court level Just like Beryl wrote above and I agree with her. I still find it very arrogant that a person’s last will might not be executed because a meddling judge might think she knows better than you. It would not surprise me if down the road we hear that this daughter blew all the money on drugs or expensive cars. We are not made aware WHY the mother disowned her. We know the daughter had five kids and possibly living on benefits, perhaps this daughter was flaky and irresponsible. There must be a reason why a mother has taken this position. If you look at Jamie Blandford who stood to inherit an stately home and a tittle but to his father’s despair, he became a cocaine addict, Jamie was irresponsible and anyone could see that leaving all this important fortune in his hands would have been safer to leave it to the family cat ! I believe his father left his fortune to his second son instead of the first born.

According to newspaper reports on the court case, the disownership of the daughter started with her elopement with a man whom the mother considered unsuitable. I would presume that there must have been some fairly strong alienation to provoke the elopement. The daughter is still married to the same man. No comments suggesting an irresponsible lifestyle came out in court and the judges must have considered the mother’s behaviour to be irrational. One of the appeal judges put forward some very good arguments why the daughter should benefit from her mother’s considerable estate. While the daughter has now been successful in obtaining a substantial inheritance, the cost in terms of intrusion into and exposure of her private life must have been quite damaging.

So far as I recall Jamie Blandford [Marquess of Blandford] did succeed to the Dukedom of Marlborough on the death of his father so he has inherited the title and is now the Duke of Marlborough, but the stately home [Blenheim Palace] is in the hands of trustees [a not uncommon arrangement in the aristocracy]. Thankfully under our laws convictions do get spent and offenders are rehabilitated. Like their shabby chairs, the British nobility are noted for the stains on their characters.

I should have mentioned, in regard to the disinheritance case, that the Inheritance [Provision for Family and Dependants] Act 1975 had a powerful bearing on the judges’ decision. Perhaps their hands were tied by the law. One would have expected the solicitor who drew up the mother’s will to have advised on the Act’s implications so perhaps his advice was ignored and the mother went ahead regardless.

A court of law is more interested in gathering evidence prior to making decisions and the mothers solicitor responsible for drawing up the will could have provided this. Was he in attendance in court? The Jamie Blandford Trustees arrangement is an excellent example and one wonders why this was not applied in this case. If the mother had refused it, it could have swung the judges decision in the daughters favour.

Disregarding the law for a minute, it does seem grossly unfair that a large sum of money accrued through diligence and hard work should be given away to someone who is undeserving or has not earned it just because they are blood related. Kahlil Gibran the great philosopher wrote……

“Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
The come through you but not from you
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you”…………..

I hope that the money the daughter went to such great lengths to acquire is wisely spent and that she is not too troubled by her conscience.

Maria says:
4 August 2015

Thank you John,

I believe the money was left to the second son, Blenheim Palace as you say is in trust and the title went to Jamie Blandford. .

I remember reading the travails of his father with Jamie in the Nigel Dempster society column many moons ago. The second son is the sensible one, so the right decision was made.

Going back to the will of the mother. It just seems to me that even in death it would now appear we are not allowed to be masters of our own destiny and can be arrogantly gain-said by some judges who knows nothing about us, or our lives or how hard we’ve had to work to earn the cash we want to leave behind.

What right did Lord Justice Ryder, Sir Colin Rimer and Lady Justice Arden have to overturn the will left by Melita Jackson, which left out her daughter Heather Ilott ? The animal charities that initially shared the sizeable £489,000 estate have understandably spent a fair amount trying to protect their cash.

It is interesting that the daughter quite conveniently left out the REASON why her mother objected to this union and why the daughter doesn’t seem to have much money of her own. Was she work shy ? Did she care about her mother ? No. She claims to have made approaches and had been rebuffed but then again, that is the daughter’s version of events. We cannot hear the mother’s reasons for drawing up her will the way she did. Can we ?

This reminds me of the Saville case, where Jimmy has been accused of things that have not been brought up until after he was long dead but now his so called victims want a slice of his money that was going to go to all the charities that Jimmy used to sponsor. It was his niece who started this snowball, she claims that Jimmy abused her during her wedding day, something that her own relatives deny, saying that Jimmy didn’t even attend her wedding. I remember telling my husband if this case is successful it will open the flood gates and every wealthy show business man will be a target for greedy people trying to cash in on their estate. Sure enough, there are about 100 ” victims ” on the Jimmy Saville circus now that are trying to get their hands on his cash. I thought… its not going to stop there… and sure enough, even poor Ted Heath reputation is now being sullied by greedy vultures who can see an opportunity to get some money. Interestingly enough Mike Jagger who has slept with thousands of women has not had any of these claims, perhaps the vultures are waiting until he dies so that he cannot defend himself. What happened to innocent until proven guilty ? It seems now that people are convicted by the media in this country and not in a court of law.

Somebody who has done something wrong is not actually innocent [until proven guilty], but the law gives them a presumption of innocence to enable a fair trial to take place. If there is a lack of evidence of guilt they should get an acquittal but that is not the same as moral innocence. I agree with you that the media frequently overstep the mark, and social media is now regarded as a potential impediment to justice.

You ask : “What right did Lord Justice Ryder, Sir Colin Rimer and Lady Justice Arden have to overturn the will left by Melita Jackson, which left out her daughter Heather Ilott ?” As I suggested previously, they took the view that the Inheritance [Provision for Family and Dependants] Act 1975 had not been complied with [as indeed had the judge in the High Court] and this gave them the right to alter the bequests. A further point is that the mother had explained her reasoning and her decision in a note accompanying the will; the Court did not accept that her explanation could set aside the intentions of the Inheritance [etc] Act given the circumstances brought to their attention.

Ultimately, it is Parliament that has determined that “even in death it would now appear we are not allowed to be masters of our own destiny” and given judges the power, in specified circumstances, to impose a different distribution of the estate to that willed by the testator/testatrix. I still hope this will end up in the Supreme Court, however, because it is a matter of interpretation and the judgment has been described as “radical”.