How long can one estate battle last?
In 2014, a 50 year long estate battle over a £2 million house finally came to an end, after a senior judge ruled that it belonged to the daughter of an alleged mistress.
Businessman Albert Line died in 1961 and the house was currently owned by Audrey Line, the daughter of Albert and his alleged mistress. Albert Line and the mother of Audrey, Norah Duff, ran a hotel together until his death, whereupon his interest in the business was transferred to Norah. Norah continued to run the hotel and when she died, the assets moved to her daughter, Audrey Line. Audrey sold the hotel business and bought the £2 million house, known as Harrogate House, which overlooks the beach.
However, Albert Line’s daughter from his wife, Kathleen, contested the inheritance, saying that her father had always been faithful, that he hadn’t had a mistress, and he couldn’t be Audrey’s father as he was ‘impotent’. As a result, the transfer of wealth to Norah and Audrey was invalid. Kathleen maintained that the administration of her father’s will was suspect, and that a second will that had left her a quarter of his estate had mysteriously gone missing. Kathleen also claimed that her father had told her several times that the hotel business would be given to her.
The two women have been embroiled in a bitter fight since their father’s death. The judge, making a final ruling, said that there was no evidence of any ‘deliberate concealment’ of evidence by Audrey and further stated: ‘In the light of my conclusions on the merits, I will make a declaration that Dr Kathleen Baker has no beneficial interest whatsoever in Harrogate House’.
The 50 year saga ended with hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees, with the original owner winning the right to continue living in the home.
Negotiation and Settlement
Litigation is the option of last resort. Negotiation and settlement is always preferable to a court battle. An expert in that area of law will have a good idea of whether litigation is likely to be successful or not. But ultimately, a bitter estate battle that lasts for 50 years is stressful and costly for everyone involved.
The Basics of an Estate Battle
If you are considering contesting a will, or if you find yourself defending a will from a contest, there are several basic things you need to know. First, contesting a will occurs if you believe that you have been left out of a will or not treated fairly within the will, or because you believe that the will is not valid.
Before contesting the will, you must be eligible under law to do so. You must be a partner of the deceased, a child of the deceased, a former partner of the deceased or someone who is considered a ‘dependant’ of the deceased. If you want more information on whether you are eligible to contest a will, then you should seek legal advice.
Once you’ve decided that you are interested in contesting a will, there are certain steps that need to be taken. This is a complex area of the law and strict time limits apply. In order to contest a will, you will need legal representation.
Ascertain the date of death
Obtain a copy of the will from the solicitor
Seek legal advice urgently – in Queensland, you only have six months from the date of death to dispute a will. Outside of this time frame, you will lose your opportunity to contest the will
A contested will is either settled out of court, or if this isn’t possible, will be decided by a judge in court
The will cannot be contested after the final distribution of the assets within the will. It is also important to keep in mind that assets that are not listed within the estate cannot be contested. When contesting the will, there are also many things that the court will take into consideration. Such things involve:
- The will
- Evidence supporting why the will was made
- The relationship between the deceased person and the contestant
- Why the contestant is contesting the will
- Whether the contestant needs provisions under the will and why
- The size of the estate and number of assets
If you need any more information regarding contesting a will, you should seek legal advice immediately. At Mitchell’s Solicitors, we are happy to help with whatever estate battles you may be facing. If you wish to create your will to limit the risk of estate litigation, you should also consider contacting us.
We offer a FREE, 10-minute phone consultation so contact us today!