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When actress Lynda Bellingham passed away in 2014 few thought that her estate would be the subject of a bitter internal dispute between the family she left behind. Mrs Bellingham didn’t die without making a Will (known as intestate) but it seems that her wishes may not have strictly been fulfilled.

On the one side are her two sons, Michael and Robbie, and on the other side is Mrs Bellingham’s late husband and the sons’ stepfather, Michael Pattemore. On the surface it seemed like the sons and their stepfather had a good relationship, but it has been revealed that all is it not as it seems; as such the boys have decided to challenge their mother’s Will.

It has been reported that Mrs Bellingham left everything she had to Mr Pattemore, who she believed would look after her children, yet they have received nothing apart from £750 each in gifts and being kicked out of the family home. It’s thought that the Will was made less than a year before she passed away, when Mrs Bellingham was already suffering with cancer.

With everything left to Mr Pattemore, the third husband of Mrs Bellingham, he told the sons that it was up to him to decide when they got the sums designated to them. He also said a lot of the money was tied up in property, yet managed to go on several holidays, have a hair transplant and buy a new car.

What grounds do they have to challenge?

The boys feel aggrieved that Mr Pattemore is spending their mother’s hard earned money in this way, whilst they have received next to nothing, but what are they challenging?

There are a few ways that they can challenge the Will:

Reasonable Financial Provision – Firstly, they could argue that as Mrs Bellingham’s children that the Will does not make reasonable financial provision for them in accordance with the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975.  If, as it has been reported, everything has been left to Mr Pattemore, then there is an arguable case even where Michael and Robbie are adults, that they should have received some monies.

The Court would look at a number of factors, but it is especially relevant in this case that the value of the estate is fairly high and Michael and Robbie’s own financial circumstances will be taken in to consideration – it is understood that since Mrs Bellingham’s death Michael and Robbie, who had lived with Mrs Bellingham, have had to leave their home and move into a small flat with their father.  However, time limits for commencing these claims are strict and there is a risk that they may be out of time to do so.

Capacity to Make a Will and Undue Influence – Secondly, they could explore whether Mrs Bellingham had:

  1. a) The capacity to make the Will;
  2. b) Fully knew and approved the contents of the Will, and/or;
  3. c) Whether she was unduly influenced by Pattemore.

There appears to be some implication that due to the fact that Mrs Bellingham made the Will whilst she was receiving treatment shortly before her death that she was vulnerable and one of these may apply. Michael and Robbie would need to speak with the solicitor who drafted the Will and obtain a statement and a copy of all contemporaneous paperwork relating to the instructions to prepare the Will. Does it differ substantially from a previous Will (if there was one)? Medical records will also be relevant for capacity.

Lesson to be learned

The main lesson to be learned is to make a legally binding Will whilst you are in good health. Take your time to plan for your family’s future – this needs to be precisely done. Make sure that you have made provisions in regards to who exactly you want to benefit from your estate and how you want it to be divided.

Mrs Bellingham made her Will once she knew she had cancer and had already started to receive chemotherapy treatment. At such a stressful time, you don’t want to be burdened by having to think about something so important as making a Will. This should be done well in time, so you can have that peace of mind that it has been done, you have given it the time and effort it deserves and you are happy that your last wishes are fully set out.

It’s also important to make your Will with a professional who can explain the intricate details and make sure all possibilities have been thought about and everything has been accounted; you will then know that you have done all you can to make the future for your family as straightforward as can be.

To Act On It and discuss your Will with one of our qualified solicitors, call us on 0343 507 5151 or email actonit@gorvins.com. Alternatively if you wish to dispute a Will that has been made, call me or another expert in our estate dispute team.