Inheritance Wars (Episode 2)

Published on 28 Sep 2023

This week’s episode of Channel 5’s “Inheritance Wars - Who Gets the Money?” featured two more legal cases relating to inheritance disputes.

The first case related to Diana Coad, a former model and Tory politician who, following the death of her husband, Peter, became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with her step-children.

After his marriage to Diana, Peter made a will in which he divided his estate 50/50 between Diana and his two daughters. The bulk of his estate was said to consist of their matrimonial home, which was worth approximately £900,000.

Before and after his marriage to Diana, Peter suffered various health problems, including prostate cancer and a heart attack, both of which he survived.

Later, Peter instructed a will writer to prepare a new will for him, in which he intended to leave the whole of the matrimonial home to Diana. However, there was an inexplicable delay in the execution of the new will. Sadly, Peter passed away unexpectedly, just seven years after his marriage to Diana, before he had signed his new will. This meant that the will was legally invalid because a will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses in order to be valid.

Although Peter’s will gave Diana 50% of Peter’s estate, Diana decided to issue a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 because she took the view that Peter’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for her; she wanted the court to make her an additional award from Peter’s estate. In particular, she wanted to be awarded the whole of the matrimonial home. One of Diana’s arguments was that she had Multiple Sclerosis, which would increase her financial needs in the future. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 enables the court to take into account any physical or mental disabilities of the applicant (and any of the beneficiaries) when determining a claim.

Unfortunately, Diana’s claim for reasonable financial provision was never decided by the court; the claim was struck out because she had failed to file certain documents on time. This led to a costs order being made against her, meaning that she had to pay not only her own costs but also those of her step-children. The costs amounted to about £80,000. Diana eventually had to sell the matrimonial home to enable her to pay the costs, leaving her with less than 50% of Peter’s estate which she had been left in the will. Diana’s lawyer concluded that, in this case, she would have been better off never bringing the claim because she ended up being worse off. However, it must be remembered that Diana’s case was never decided by the court and she might have been successful if her claim had not been struck out.

It was unclear why Peter had not signed his later will. Might Diana have had a negligence claim against the will writer for the financial loss she suffered as a direct consequence of him failing to ensure that Peter’s will was signed promptly? It was also unclear why Diana failed to lodge documents with the court in time, leading to her claim being struck out. If she had lawyers and they were at fault, she may have had a claim in negligence against them.

The second case concerned Antony Lambton, also known as Lord Lambton. He was a British aristocrat who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament, before being forced to resign following a scandal. He was an extremely wealthy man, who owned property in the United Kingdom as well as in Italy. Lord Lambton had five daughters and one son. He wanted to ensure that his son inherited his entire estate, in accordance with the ancient British tradition of primogeniture, so he left his entire estate to him.

When Lord Lambton died, his daughters fought to obtain a share of his multi-million pound estate. Matters were complicated by the fact that, during his lifetime, Lord Lambton had changed his domicile to Italy, so there were issues relating to whether or not the legal proceedings should properly be pursued in England and Wales, or Italy. Lord Lambton’s daughters wanted the case to proceed in Italy because under Italian law they would automatically be entitled to a share of their father’s estate.

Eventually, the case was resolved by mediation between Lord Lambton’s children, helping to avoid the substantial costs that they would certainly have incurred if they continued with the litigation.

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