Bernard Matthews' mistress in row over will
Filed under: Retirement
Three of his children are fighting his wishes. So what is happening, and what does it tell us about money and death?
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Personal lifeBernard Matthews made an impressive £40 million fortune from his turkey empire. However, his personal life was less straightforwardly successful. Early on he married Joyce, who helped build his empire. While he was with her he adopted three children, Kathleen, Jason and Victoria.
Later, he had a relationship with Dutch aristocrat Cornelia Elgershuizen - who gave girth to his son George. And after that he started a long-term relationship with Odile Marteyn. However, he never divorced Joyce, and Marteyn remained his mistress until his death two years ago at the age of 80.
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The estateThe law doesn't make allowances for complexity, so under French law, after his death, his St Tropez property would be split, and most of it would belong to his adopted children.
Matthews tried to pre-empt this, by writing to his children in the years before he died and explaining that he wanted Villa Bolinha to go to Marteyn. In his letter he wrote: "Odile has supported me unfailingly for many years and particularly so during my recent illnesses. Without such support, I might not have been able to continue directing our family company for our mutual benefit."
The letter continued: "In reaching my decision I have taken into account the fact that each of you is very well housed with at least one property each and that, directly or indirectly, I have provided financially for each of you over a very long period of years."
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The majority of his estate went to his son George, who accepted Matthews' wishes for the villa. However, the other three children decided not to follow his directions, and the case has now come to court. They are asking for their share of the villa (around 56%), and want the inheritance tax due on the French property to be paid from his English estates (owned by George).
The judge ruled that there was nothing Marteyn could do to hold onto their share of the villa. However, he denied the children the opportunity to claim that the inheritance tax should be paid from his other properties outside France.
Learning from thisIt is a complicated state of affairs. The family set-up itself is far from traditional. Matthews cannot have created a harmonious situation when leaving £1 million in cash and a £12 million property to his mistress, the bulk of his fortune to his son by birth, and nothing to his adopted children (beyond the generous gifts he gave during his lifetime).
Any complex situation, with divided loyalties and long-running emotional issues is never going to be entirely straightforward. However, there are two vital things we can take away from this when it comes to money and death.
LawThe first is that the law does not take account of what we want. English law is a bit different to that in France, because if you state what you want, and give strong reasoning for any unusual decisions, then in by far the majority of cases your wishes are honoured. However, if you die without a will then your estate is divided according to the laws of intestacy, and here you run the serious risk of a horrible surprise.
Under these rules, generally your spouse will get the first £250,000 of your estate and a life interest in the rest. The rest will tend to be divided between children or surviving parents, depending on your precise situation. If you are unmarried, you may well find that your partner is left with nothing.
FamiliesThe second rule is that money does strange things to people - especially those going through the trauma of bereavement. You may think you know your family and friends, and that you know how they will act after you pass away. However, history is littered with court cases from surviving families who chose instead to fight over the estate.
It means we cannot rely on anyone to sort things out for us after we have gone. It is up to us to decide what we want, and to write a will to ensure this is exactly what happens - no matter how complex our personal and family lives.
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