Working In PLS: Viscount Rochdale's Estate Dispute

Jonathan Kemp, the 3rd Viscount Rochdale, came to us for advice following the death of his father St John Durival, the 2nd Viscount Rochdale, in February 2015. It came as a devastating surprise when he discovered the family tradition to take over the role of looking after the family estate and inheriting the majority of his father's assets had transferred over to his stepmother.

Paula Myers from our Will, Trust and Estate Disputes Team took on Jonathan’s case.

Jonathan had grown up being coached to manage the family estate, which had been passed down to the eldest male child for generations. As such, Jonathan expected to inherit the majority of his father’s estate.

He was shocked to discover that his father had made a number of new Wills that gradually left his entire estate - worth approximately £12million - to Jonathan’s stepmother, Elizabeth, and her son.

St John had made a Will in 1991 which appeared to align closely with the sense of family and tradition. The estate would be left to his wife for her lifetime and to Jonathan after her.

Shortly before the first major change to St John’s Will, Jonathan’s stepmother had requested that the estate transfer to one of her estate properties. Jonathan and his siblings received advice that this would be detrimental to the estate and refused to consent to the transfer.

Evidence suggested that a plan to engineer the changes to the Will was put in place at this point. St John had subsequently made Wills and Codicils in 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2004. Each new Will or Codicil gradually diluted Jonathan’s share in his father’s estate.

After reviewing medical records, Will documents, and private correspondence, we found that St John had been suffering with dementia for some time before his death. What’s more, this fact had potentially been concealed from the outside world.

Witnesses said that St John was unable to stand up to his wife, who was “controlling, overbearing and forceful”. Irwin Mitchell took statements from a number of people including old family friends and estate employees, who were able to recount instances of this controlling behaviour.

Another complication was the fact that Jonathan and his siblings retained interests in a number of family trusts, some of which involved their stepmother as a beneficiary. The prospect of the parties being tied to one another for the rest of their lives was clearly an unappetising one for Jonathan and his sisters.

We found potential breaches of trust in the trust documentation, including an unauthorised loan made by a trust of which Jonathan was a beneficiary to another trust from which Elizabeth’s family benefitted. Further investigation revealed the loan had never been repaid.

Alongside this, Irwin Mitchell, who also acted for Jonathan’s sisters Joanna and Susie, argued that St John had not made reasonable financial provision for his daughters and we pursued claims on their behalf under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

After defending proceedings to propound the Will, we reached a settlement for Jonathan after mediation of all of the issues in the case. The terms of the settlement are subject to confidentiality provisions.

Partner Perspective:

Paula Myers, (Partner, Will, Trust and Estate Disputes Team)

"These cases are distressing for all of our clients as they are often grieving and upset by the loss of a loved one. To be faced with the shock of being disinherited or to be faced with finding that the Will provisions were not as expected in these sorts of circumstances can be devastating.

"Fortunately, the law can protect against these situations if applied correctly, and with the collection of evidence and application of that law, we can often achieve results to ease the situation that clients are in."

Client Perspective

Jonathan Kemp, the 3rd Viscount Rochdale

“My case was not straight forward. I had contacted two other solicitors from large firms, who said I had no grounds. The advice from Paula Myers was that I would not know until I had collected the relevant evidence. The advice and professionalism persuaded me that I should at least take those initial steps. I am delighted I did.

"Paula operated at a higher level of professionalism. It was clearly evident I was getting a team of experienced professionals who care about what they do and their clients.

"Before the final mediation the team were all very supportive, making contact throughout the day. It is these small touches that make a real difference. I was, and am, delighted with everything that happened and, most importantly, the resolution which allows me to move on with peace of mind.”

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