Widow Out Of Time To Bring Claim Over Estate Dispute

Court Of Appeal Blocks Legal Action Taken Six Years After Husband’s Death


A widow of a property tycoon has lost in her legal battle to gain access to a greater income from his £7.5 million estate from her stepsons, despite Court of Appeal judges conceding she had an arguable case.

Clive Zola Berger’s widow Rosana had gone to court to attempt to increase her annual income from her late husband’s estate from £72,000 to £220,000, arguing that such a move was vital if the terms of his will outlining that she should be able to live in the manner she was accustomed were to be met.

Mrs Berger stated that the extra funds would be vital if she was to maintain the upkeep of the £2.5 million mansion where she lived, as well as pay for domestic staff and other factors.

While Lady Justice Black felt the case was arguable, the claim for what was regarded as a reasonable provision from the estate was blocked as the widow had waited more than six years to bring her claim.

The law provides that Mrs Berger would not have needed any permission to bring a claim if she had made such a move within six months of her husband’s death.

In conclusion, Lady Justice Gloster added: “I would express the hope that that all three trustees will be able to agree upon what such suitable provision should comprise, so that any further litigation in connection with this estate may be avoided.”

Expert Opinion
This case is an interesting reminder of the importance of seeking specialist legal advice from the outset if concerns are held regarding the way a loved one’s estate has been divided.

"What makes this case particularly unfortunate is that the Court of Appeal essentially stated that the widow had an arguable claim which would have been heard if it had been made within the recognised time limit. Seemingly, two sets of lawyers failed to identify this at an early stage.

"Another distressing aspect to this case is the fact that the deceased wrote a letter to his sons a few months before his death in order to ensure any disputes over his estate were avoided.

"When preparing a will, we would always encourage people to ensure they sit down with friends and family to explain clearly the reasoning behind the decisions made in the document. Such a move should ensure people are clear on your wishes regarding the estate, but also go some way to preventing disagreements or disputes further down the line.

"Of course, that is not always possible and we would urge anyone who has concerns over the distribution of a loved one’s estate to get in touch with legal experts promptly to discuss potential options which may be open to them. The deadlines in these types of cases are much tighter than other claims. The deadline is 6 months which is very short and it is often missed by practitioners who are not specialists."
Julia Burns, Associate