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Claims and Litigation in Celebrity Wills

In recent years, a number of celebrity estates have encountered claims and potential litigation. Such estates include that of Aretha Franklin, Prince and Nelson Mandela. The latest celebrity estate to cause a stir is that of Sir Michael Gambon.

Michael Gambon, the award-winning actor, famously known for his role as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, died in 2023. Following his death, the revelation of his will has caused a scandal.

Michael was married to Lady Anne Gambon for 61 years. Together they had a son, Fergus. However, whilst married, Michael had a long-term relationship with Philippa Hart. During Michael and Philippa’s relationship, they had two sons together: Tom and William.

Michael is reported to have split his time equally between Anne and Philippa, for over 20 years. However, the provisions of his Last Will and Testament does not provide for both Anna and Philippa.

Michael’s will left the majority of his circa £1.5million estate to his wife Anne and Fergus.

Philippa, Tom and William all appear to have been excluded for the most part and are reported to have received a legacy (cash sum) of £10,000 each and an acting trophy. However, it is worth noting that there may have been separate arrangements for Philippa, as Michael and Philippa were previously reported to have jointly owned a London property of significant value.

What is testamentary freedom?

Michael’s will is an example of a fundamental English law principle, testamentary freedom. Testamentary freedom is where a testator (will-maker) has the freedom to leave their estate to whomever they wish. There is no obligation placed upon the testator to ensure any specific person inherits from their estate.

Whilst testamentary freedom is an important legal principle, it does not prevent challenges being brought against an estate or the will itself.

Legal challenges to the estate

One possible challenge that can be brought against an estate is a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the 1975 Act’). It is unclear at this time, whether Philippa intends to bring such a challenge.

Philippa has the legal standing to make a claim, as a cohabitee, given that she and Michael shared a significant amount of time together and lived as a ‘man and wife’ for the time they did spend together. Essentially, Michael had two separate families, both coexisting at the same time.

However, the fact that Michael was married to Anne and they chose to remain married, may mean that any challenge Philippa may bring will face significant hurdles. This is because English law prevents an individual from being married to two persons at the same time. The unique circumstances in this instance, may be a question for the court to answer.

Not only could Philippa make a challenge, but her sons Tom and/or William could also make a challenge. For Tom and/or William to bring a challenge, they would need to demonstrate that they were financially reliant on Michael and the legacies they received under Michael’s will were insufficient to provide for their future.

How can Morr & Co help?

Legal challenges involve complex legal issues and risk, so if you are contemplating making a claim, or defending such a claim in a will, it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced contentious probate solicitor.

Morr & Co can assist you in navigating these complexities effectively and efficiently. If you have any questions or would like further information on the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact our Estate and Trust Dispute team who will be happy to help.

Contact us today on 01737 854 500 or email [email protected] to make an appointment to find out more.

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.

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