Where there’s a will, there’s a... relative


Did God invent money? To keep you in touch with your children.

It’s a sad truth that money trumps politics, religion or sexual orientation as the biggest buster-upper of families.

Here I stick my hand up and admit in my own family if mention is made of wills and inheritance it’s like nails down a blackboard.

Before we get personal, let me start with the tax logic... or utter lack of it. If you’ve had your nose to the grindstone, worked hard and paid your taxes, why do you get taxed again gifting it to whomever you please. Now I know in the UK there is a daft provision that if you live for seven years after the bequeath then what you bequeath is tax free. But why? What cockamamie logic is that?

When you are on the last lap of the race of life and you need money to look after yourself and lessen the burden to others... sorry, you must give it all away to lessen the inheritance tax bill. Either you live in poverty in your last years or rely on those you gave your money too will look after you. Either has the potential for disaster.

Next. The taxman's beady little eyes are more shortsighted than a mole. They value an Estate at time of death, not at the grant of probate. Mad. Let me give a simple example. Let’s say you sadly popped your clogs before the crash of 2007 when stocks were high but your wife who achieves probate afterwards when stocks were often more than halved; she would find there was very little left after the taxman had his Jaws like bite.

Then there is probate itself. Legal constipation at its finest. Even simple probate takes a year and more complex ones taking up to five times that.

Once you have got through all this... the legal challenge. A minefield and the explosive device upon which many a family have trodden and blown themselves to smithereens.

...and another thing

The other woman (or man). For fear of lawsuits I will have to keep one example of a well-known challenge anonymous.

A famous UK industrialist eventually died in Monaco in the late 1990’s. He left his children stock in the eponymous company named after him that was worth near hundreds of millions to each to them. He left his second wife a generous amount of shares but on the provision she only lives off the dividend and on her death the equity goes back to the kids (all from his first marriage, he had none with his second).

The kids were incensed and challenged the will saying this woman, his secretary no less, was a chancer who had wiggled her way into his life and persuaded him against his will to leave her money. Jezebel you all cry. Clearly a gold digger.

Except he had married her when she was indeed his secretary in 1956 and she had loved and cared for him until his death. Think about it. The kids already had enough money… ten times over and this woman was bound to return the stock. But no, it went to court. If I’d been the Judge, I’d not only let her keep the money but also not have to return the stock to the kids and fined the kids £50m for wasting the Court’s time.

Then look at 1993 Playboy Playmate of the year, Anna Nicole Smith. Yes, a woman with just enough brainpower to fill a peanut M&M but a body that made Jessica Rabbit look malnourished. My wife will vouch for this. When she worked at Playboy, she once chaperoned Nicole at an event. If you were on a sinking ship you would not need a life vest so long as you could clutch onto the pneumatic figure of Anna Nicole.

Some 89-year old oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall fell for her and married her. The wedding photo has this old boy in a wheelchair with a grin wider than the Grand Canyon. When he died, the kids challenged what he left Nicole. It was a fraction of the millions he had left his kids.

The blond had obviously cheered the old lech up and in my view thoroughly deserved her piece of the action as the old boy had clearly enjoyed a piece of her action… before he collapsed from sexual exhaustion into the arms of St. Peter.

Anna Nicole died in poverty, one of her children died a drug addict and her other child is still awaiting a final decision from the court. Screw the law, where is some humanity?

...and another thing

Some wills can be twisted. A Michigan millionaire died in 1919 but so despised his family as financial leaches he left the money to surviving relatives 21 years after the death of his last grandchild. Sure enough in November 2010 12 people shared US$ 110 million.

Some have bite. German poet Heinrich “Henry” Heine left his estate to his wife, Matilda, in 1856 on the condition that she remarry, so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”. Ouch.

On a lighter note though, Legendary US comedian Jack Benny left a very touching instruction in his will when he died in 1974. “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home,” his widow Mary Livingstone wrote in a magazine, shortly after his death. “I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.”

Of course, you can choose to emulate Errol Flynn who famously said,
“Show me a man who dies leaving US$ 100m and I’ll show you an idiot. Show me a man who dies owing the bank US$ 100m and I’ll show you a genius.”

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