Judy Taubman, the wife of property tycoon Alfred Taubman was left red-faced after being refused entry to her Mayfair flat after an inheritance row with her step-children. Alfred Taubman, a property tycoon who bought the world-famous auction house Sotheby’s, died in April this year leaving his vast fortune to be distributed in accordance with his wishes under his will. Unfortunately, relations between his widow and his children by his first wife broke down and a dispute broke out over two paintings hanging in the flat worth £400,000.

Mr Taubman’s children went to great lengths to ensure Mrs Taubman could not gain entry to the flat by hiring a security guard and changing the locks, despite the fact that Mrs Taubman had lived in the flat with her husband, to whom she had been married to for 33 years.

So do Mr Taubman’s children have the right to exclude their stepmother from the flat, and what could have been done differently to prevent this situation from happening?

The legal position:

When a person dies, it is their executors who will collect all assets of the estate, pay any outstanding debts and distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will. All property belonging to the deceased will therefore temporarily be owned and controlled by the Executors, also known as Trustees. Property held in joint names however will pass to the surviving owner automatically by survivorship. This includes a house in joint names and bank/ building society accounts in joint names.

The Executor’s job is an important one. They owe a duty of care towards the beneficiaries of the estate. If they breach this duty of care, they can be held personally liable for any loss caused to the estate. The duty is on the Executor therefore to ensure that they distribute the estate carefully and in accordance with the deceased’s wishes and do not cause any unnecessary loss.

The Mayfair flat:

Whilst very few of us will own paintings worth £400,000, it follows the important principle that the flat, including all household contents and personal possessions, form part of the estate and must be protected and any loss could be borne personally by the Executors.

How can a dispute be avoided?:

Whilst having a Will does not absolve family disputes entirely, ensuring that your assets go to the people who you want when you pass away is a step in the right direction. It is important therefore to have a valid and up-to-date Will.

A person who dies without a Will is referred to as dying ‘intestate’. It is a common misconception that upon death, your estate will automatically pass to your spouse. This may not be the case and everything you own could be shared out in a way defined by the law of intestacy- also known as the ‘intestacy rules’. This may not be the way you want it to happen and could cause future disputes.

To ‘Act On It’ and update your Will or plan for your future, make sure you deal with a professional. Our dedicated and expert team of Wills, Trusts & Probate Solicitors will give you peace of mind. Feel free to give us a call on 0161 930 5117 or email us at actonit@gorvins.com and someone will give you a ring at a time that is convenient for you.

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