Estate Dispute Ruling Puts Children First

Will And Family Experts Comment On Case

02.08.2011

A High Court ruling on a legal battle involving the loved ones of the Duke of Manchester is likely to provide hope to children who are born out of wedlock, according to estate dispute and family law experts at Irwin Mitchell.

Judge Justice Floyd ruled this week that two children of Alexander Montagu, the 13th Duke, were entitled to a cut of his estate despite his marriage to their mother Wendy Buford being “bigamous and void” as he was already wedded to Marion Stoner.

The Duke did not become divorced from his marriage with Mrs Stoner until three years into his marriage with Mrs Buford, which subsequently ended in 2007. However, after discovering the nature of the youngsters’ links to him in 2009, the trustees of his estate chose to stop paying them maintenance.

They then looked to gain a definitive ruling over whether the children should have access to the Duke’s estate, but Mr Justice Floyd upheld their right to do so.

According to Adam Draper, an associate solicitor and expert in estate disputes at Irwin Mitchell, the case allows children who are not legitimate by the law of England and Wales to claim against a trust.

He explained: “The law permits claims by children and those treated as children of the deceased. In addition, someone who enters into a bigamous marriage in ‘good faith’ or a polygamous marriage outside of the UK will also be entitled to claim as a spouse under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

“This case may be a high-profile one, but it is the kind of scenario which can play out in everyday life.

“It also highlights the importance of sitting down with family and friends to discuss decisions made in terms of inheritance, as this could go some way to preventing people from commencing legal battles over a Will in the long run.”

Lucy Cummin, of Irwin Mitchell’s specialist family law team, added that the judge’s decision puts England and Wales in a different bracket to other countries when it comes to this issue.

She said: “This decision isn’t about an everyday family but could impact on children where for some reason their parents’ marriage is not valid.

“It is likely to be a key safeguard for the offspring of people in invalid marriages, confirming that the rights of those caught in such a position are not ignored. In addition, it sets England and Wales apart from Europe where, for example, they would be deemed illegitimate and unable to inherit.”

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