The sons of English TV star Lynda Bellingham,, who died of cancer in 2014, have launched an estate battle contesting their mother’s will after they discovered that their mother had left her entire estate to her third husband, Michael Pattemore. They have also accused Lynda’s widower of depriving them of their inheritance, evicting them from the family home and squandering thousands from their mother’s estate.
In her will, the actress left everything to her husband, who has reportedly told the boys that all of her money is tied up in properties and so is impossible to access.
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Michael says that at the beginning of his mother’s chemotherapy treatment, he made a point of talking to her about her wishes. ‘I told her it wasn’t about making sure we knew what she wanted,’ he says.
‘She said Michael Pattemore was rushing about getting the will sorted. She mentioned inheritance tax and trying to avoid it by leaving money to him for him to pass on to us later, but she said there would be trusts set up which ensured a certain amount for Robbie and me. It was difficult for anyone to have a private conversation with her at that stage because he was always hovering around her.’
When Lynda eventually signed the will, it was Christmas 2013 and she was in hospital for an emergency operation to remove the tumour in her colon.
‘She’d almost died and was on a lot of strong drugs when she signed it,’ says Michael. His mother died in October 2014, aged 66.
Speaking about the possibility that their mother was under a lot of medication when she signed the will, Robbie explained that she had drawn up her will in the space of two weeks, after being told she had a 50/50 chance of living.
“At the moment, it’s difficult to say because we’re not actually challenging the validity of the will as such,” he said. “She’s made that decision and for all intents and purposes she’s signed that will regardless of the fact that she may have been under a lot of medication.
“She went on to live until October, we don’t feel it was necessary to rush that – we also wanted to be included in the decisions being made and we weren’t.” Failing to inform family members about your final wishes can lead to an estate battle, particularly if any of them feel like they’ve been hit with a nasty surprise.
Recalling their mother’s spoken wishes for them, Robbie said: “Her main focus and it became more of a point once she became ill, she just wanted to make sure we would be okay, a roof over our heads. She made that clear.”
After their mother’s death, the boys say assumed Pattemore would be in contact with them regarding the will. They claim that neither of them had seen the will until their aunt intervened and he agreed to share it with them.
Michael said: “He sat me down and instead of giving it to me, he read it. He said ‘Everything’s been left to me, so it will go to you when I decide.’ I was sitting there crying, thinking, ‘Oh God, no.’”
Robbie added: “When he read it to me later, he actually chuckled and tried to make a joke, saying, ‘So you’d better not do anything to annoy me.’”
On their mother’s nature and the will process, Michael continued: “I think she was a very trusting woman. She always saw the best in everyone. The advice she was given whatever that may have been, inheritance tax and things like that, she felt that what she was doing was the best by us.”
Robbie claimed that Pattemore texted him to ask him and his brother to leave their flat while he was enjoying a luxury holiday, saying it was his intention to let the £1.1m property.
“He said I’d have to move out as he’d decided to move to Somerset and wanted to rent out the flat,” Robbie said. “I don’t think being asked to leave my home less than a year after my mum had died constitutes looking after her boys.”
Robbie says that Pattemore was angered after they took personal photographs, and a TV that had been gifted to them, when they moved out of the home he and their mother had bought them in 2008.
“While my mother’s husband was away, I received the text message. It was unexpected, it was less than a year after mum passed away. I had no idea it would be coming, I wasn’t something I knew I would have to start preparing for at all,” he said, revealing they had taken things of sentimental value, including “pictures and paintings that had been in the family for years”. It is often the things of little value that cause an estate battle to erupt.
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“He wasn’t too happy about it,” he continued. “There were various texts that said I shouldn’t have taken those things. The photo albums, he mentioned he uses them for press, so he asked me why I took them. I stopped responding.
Michael added: “We had to take the TV back to the house. Like [Robbie] said: ‘How dare you take those photos, I need those photos for press.’”
Michael Pattemore then reportedly bought a £600,000 mansion, shortly after evicting her sons from their family flat. He continues to insist that the money is tied up in properties and impossible to access – despite the luxury travel and the new mansion. It was at this point that the sons decided to launch their estate battle, contesting their mother’s will.
Is it possible to avoid an estate battle?
This type of estate battle is one of the most common. Assuming that the new spouse will ‘do the right thing’ by children from a previous marriage is a mistake. We see many times over that the new spouse completely disregards the children from the previous relationship and uses the money for themselves or for their own children. A 2015 study by QUT, entitled Having the Last Word? Will making and contestation in Australia, showed that there are many who put off and find will-making challenging. The study found unequal shares of an estate are more likely in blended families and where a will is contested most claimants are adult children in conflict with siblings or their parent’s partner. “For such families it was often about the extent to which children were seen to be children of both parties,” concluded the study, particularly if the relationship occurred later in life.
Careful estate planning can overcome this problem. An expert in wills and estates can structure your estate planning so that the likelihood of an estate battle over your will is reduced. Contact us today for your free, 10-minute phone consultation.