Recent Contentious Probate Search Cases

People are fascinated to hear of waring heirs battling over a deceased relatives estate and the more sensational the case the more likely it is to make the news, especially if there is a salacious element and even more so if it involves celebrities or the aristocracy.

One such case involved the children of Alexander Charles David Drogo Montagu, who is the Australian born 13th Duke of Manchester and a distant relative of Diana, Princess of Wales.

In 1993 The Duke married a woman, who he had met in a country and western night club in California, a week before she gave birth to their son Alexander, 6 years later they had a second child Ashley. However in 1984 The Duke had already married another woman a fact that he had failed to disclose to his new wife. The second marriage was therefore bigamous and void a fact that threw into confusion the status of his two children as his heirs. The Duke divorced his first wife in 1996 before his second child was born and separated from his second wife in 2007. The Trustees of the Duke’s estate ceased paying the children maintenance in 2009.

The case came before the Court on the question as to whether the children were entitled to benefit from their father’s estate. The Trustees asked the Court to decide whether the children were “issue” or “descendants” of the 13th Duke’s ancestor, the 1st Duke of Manchester as only then could they benefit from his estate.  The case was complicated not just by the Duke’s bigamous marriage but by a question of domicile as the laws of Australia, California and England all had to be considered.

In July 2011 the Judge held that the Trustees were entitled under the terms of the settlements to provide for the Duke’s children.  He also stated that it would be wrong for England “to stand aloof in barbarous insularity from the rest of the world” by failing to failing to recognise the rights of children of bigamous marriages.

The case of Cowderoy v Cranfield was apparently far more simple and should, considering the lack of evidence, never have reached court. The case shows the lengths some people who believes they should be a beneficiary of a relatives estate will go to in the attempt to prove that they are an entitled heir.

A granddaughter of the deceased brought an action seeking revocation of the Grant of Probate and asked the Court to find that a will made 2 years before the testator died was invalid. Needless to say the granddaughter was not named as a beneficiary in the will, instead the deceased had bequeathed her entire estate to a neighbour who had become a family friend and who had also become a carer for the deceased in her latter years. This neighbour had therefore become the sole beneficiary.

The Claimant argued that the will was invalid on three grounds (1) the testator lacked testamentary capacity, (2) that she did not know and approve the will’s contents, and (3) that the will had been procured by undue influence on the part of the sole beneficiary.

Whilst the Judge found that, although the deceased had a propensity to drink alcohol which she combined with her medication meaning that she had “good days and bad days”, there was no evidence to show that on the days when she gave instructions for her will and executed it that she did not understand what she was doing or have the mental capacity to do so.

The Judge dismissed the claim finding that there was no evidence to support any of the three grounds on which the case was brought, the granddaughter therefore failing in her attempt to become a beneficiary of the deceased’s estate.

Finders heir hunters have been awarded the ISO 9001:2008 Total Quality Management certification and are the first probate genealogy firm to achieve the international version of this Standard as devised by the IAB (International Accreditation Board). Finders have also been awarded ISO/IEC 27001:2005 Data & Information Security Certification. Finders heir hunters also provide Aviva missing beneficiary insurance, which protects Trustees and Administrators against the unlikely but possible event of an unknown beneficiary emerging after an Estate has been distributed. Finders heir hunters can also obtain Aviva insurance against a will being found which disinherits heirs who have received already been paid, thus safeguarding heir from ever having to repay their inheritance once received.

As agents for Aviva Finders heir hunters are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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Daniel Curran
Written by Daniel Curran
Daniel is a leading figure in the UK Heir Hunting industry. He is from Isleworth in West London and has lived in London for most of his life. He has been in the probate genealogy profession since 1990. He formed Finders in 1997 after 7 years at another firm.