April 17, 2015

Gambling on inheritance: wife rolls dice for stake in multi millionaire’s estate

Second marriages, stepchildren, larger estates and a more litigious society are frequently cited as reasons for the unprecedented increase in inheritance disputes and will disputes.

As we have said before in this blog, where there’s a will there is often a disappointed beneficiary.

However, few disputes can be as unusual – or involve such eye-watering figures – as the case of Ruanne Dellal, widow of flamboyant property developer Jack Dellal, who has won the first round of a court battle to challenge the provisions of her late husband’s will.

Although Mrs Dellal inherited the not insubstantial sum of £15.4m, she claims that her husband, who died in 2012 aged 89, had a much bigger fortune and must have given away millions to blood relatives without her knowledge.

Known as ‘Black Jack’ for his love of gambling, Mr Dellal regularly featured in the Sunday Times Rich List with his fortune estimated at £445m in the year he died. His widow told the High Court in London that the amount she inherited was an “absurd presentation” of her late husband’s wealth.

Mrs Dellal, the second wife of the charismatic businessman, believes that family members must have received substantial assets in the years after Jack made his will in 2006 and ‘to all intents and purposes left his entire estate” to her.  She is seeking “reasonable provision” from his estate (beyond the £15.4m she has already received) and suggesting that his state net estate should be increased by a number of other properties and assets.

Jack Dellal’s 96-year-old sister Violet and six of his adult children from previous relationships had asked the court to throw out his widow’s claim. However, Mr Justice Mostyn has rejected that demand and instead suggested that he wants to analyse more evidence.

The property dealer, who was born in Manchester to exiled Iraqi Jewish parents, initially made his money in merchant banking. The court heard that he is said to have gambled £1.7million in just one night. However, it seems that neither Mrs Dellal nor the judge believes that ‘Black Jack’ could have simply frittered away the bulk of his vast fortune in casinos.

It is not uncommon for some people to dispose of their assets towards the end of their life and thereafter use their wills to try control what should happen to their remaining estates. Whilst that is the very nature and purpose of a will, problems arise where such testamentary planning is used to try and avoid discharging genuine testamentary obligations (often towards spouses or cohabitees). Disposing of assets prior to death is a risky approach not least because the law does provide for such to be reversed in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the later in life the gift is made, the more likely there will be a challenge based on failing testamentary mental capacity.

At Jones Myers we have dealt with and resolved many disputes of this type and nature. There has been an increase in the number of clients approaching us in life to advise on the likely effect and associated risk of claims as a result of their intended actions. We would encourage open dialogues with family members effected to avoid claims at a later stage.

With or without a will, where there is a dispute that has arisen, we can help resolve it.

If you would like to talk to us about any aspect of disappointed inheritance claims or disputed wills please contact Martin Holdsworth on 0113 3804571 or email martin.holdsworth@jonesmyers.co.uk