What do George Michael and Macaulay Culkin have in common? Answer – they are both the subject of family disputes.

George Michael left his properties and wealth to his two sisters, Melanie and Yioda. His partner Fadi Fawaz has been engaged in a legal dispute with George Michael’s family in respect of George’s £6 million home in London which he is refusing to move out of. In addition, Kenny Goss, who was with the Careless Whisper singer for 13 years prior to his relationship with Fawaz, is also disputing the will. He claims that he supported George during his most turbulent years.

When he was 15 years old Macaulay Culkin’s lawyer issued proceedings to remove both his parents as legal guardians and allow him to manage his $11 million (£8.4 million) fortune himself. Mr Culkin won the case and has stated his father was mentally and physically abusive[1]. They have not spoken since the case.

Bringing a claim against your parents is a brave step. Because it is viewed as a deeply controversial move, such actions often make it into the press, which can add extra pressure on all involved. Emotions run high and if the situation is not managed correctly, family relationships can be permanently destroyed.

What are the reasons for suing your family?

Common reasons for suing parents relate to contentious Wills and Probate or financial matters, such as stealing money.

Contentious Wills and Probate

In 2014, Loose Women host and national treasure, Lynda Bellingham died she left an estate of around £5 million. However, in summer 2014, it was reported her two sons would only receive £50,000 each and her husband, the boy’s stepfather, would inherit the remainder of the estate.

According to The Sun newspaper, “Following Lynda’s death the boys become locked in a bitter battle with Michael [the stepfather] and claimed he had deprived them of their inheritance, saying they had only seen £750 each of their mother’s huge fortune, that he had evicted them from their family home and squandered the late star’s cash on lavish holidays”.

Disputes over Wills have increased significantly in recent years, as rising property prices have resulted in people leaving larger estates than ever before. Challenging a Will is not easy, as the starting point as far as the courts are concerned is a testator should be free to leave his or her estate to whomever they wish.

Will can, however, be challenged on the grounds of:

  • testamentary capacity;
  • lack of valid execution;
  • lack of knowledge and approval;
  • undue influence;
  • the document was fraudulent or forged; and
  • a clerical error or the failure of the person who drafted the Will to understand the testator’s wishes.

If you do plan to challenge a Will, it is best to move swiftly, before Probate is granted.

In addition, a claim can be made under the Inheritance (Family and Dependants) Act 1975 by individuals who have:

  • not inherited as a result of intestacy (where there is no will);
  • been left out of a will entirely; or
  • not been left as much as they need

Individuals will need to show that reasonable financial provision has not been made.

Several celebrities are not leaving their wealth to their children in their wills, they include – Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Sting and Elton John. Would this open up the possibility of their children making claims under the Inheritance Act?

Financial matters

Finding out your mother or father has stolen from you does not only happen in Hollywood. In 2015, Preston Crown Court heard how a bride-to-be was robbed of an inheritance, left to her by her late father, after her mother promised to keep the money safe, and then spent the lot.

Denvar Bathie told the court she had trusted her mother with her bank card and pin number to keep the money safe, only to find £20,000 was spent on holidays, shopping trips, hotel bills, and visits to the cinema and hairdressers[2].

In a victim impact statement which was read out in court, Ms Bathie said:

“I trusted my mother more than anyone else and I believed her every word but the trust disappeared there and then [when she found out about the theft].

“I was betrayed and heartbroken. She went behind my back spending my savings which was my future.

“As I started saving my mother came up with the idea so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend it – knowing how useless I was at saving I handed it to her I would have never second-guessed.

“Sadly, the card never went into the attic – it had its own place in Trudy’s purse the whole time and she had been using it for herself. I don’t understand how this is possible.

“I didn’t know if I could trust anyone, after all if my mother could do this what could others do. Where was she in all this? Egypt – a holiday I had paid for without my knowledge as she ‘needed a break’.”

The mother was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence.

The sense of betrayal and destruction of trust when a parent abuses or steals from you is often one of the hardest things to come to terms with. We assume that our parents will always act in our best interests and are devastated when they forsake this expectation.

However, betrayal can go the other way in some cases. For example, the Daily Mail reported in April 2018 that a couple who lent their daughter £90,000 were told by the court she was not liable to pay it back because there no written contract was put in place. Had the parents had a contract for repayment of the loan drawn up by a solicitor, they may have been able to pursue damages against their daughter for breach of contract.

Final words

Taking a family member to court is a highly emotional and stressful experience. An experienced civil litigation solicitor understands this and will make every attempt to settle the dispute outside of court through a Part 36 offer or alternative dispute resolution methods such as negotiation and/or mediation.

Family arguments are common, but to ensure they do not escalate into a fully-fledged court case, it is crucial to seek legal advice early on.

Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based in London’s West End. We have dedicated and highly experienced civil litigation team who can advise and represent you. For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.

Do you have any comments to make on this article? Please feel free to add them to the section below.

[1] https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/23/macaulay-culkin-alleges-father-abused-mentally-physically-led-leave-hollywood-7252116/

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11327147/Mother-stole-daughters-20k-inheritance-and-secretly-spent-it.html

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