Till death us do part…or divorce?
Mari Vindis is fighting for a share of her late husband’s estate valued at £12 milion pounds, having been left only £36,000 under the terms of his Will notwithstanding the fact that she was expecting in the region of £6 million as a settlement in her divorce.
Mari Vindis and her late husband, Nigel Vindis, had been separated since 2011. At the time of Mr Vindis’s death she had just petitioned for divorce on the basis of their two-year separation. The divorce and financial settlement had not concluded when Mr Vindis died suddenly.
Mrs Vindis had no doubt assumed as his widow she would receive all of the family assets but Mr Vindis left a Will and supplementary letter of intentions leaving the majority of his fortune to their two children, both in their twenties. Mrs Vindis by contrast found herself in a position where she has been provided for by Mr Vindis less favourably than she would have been had a financial Order been made upon divorce by the Courts.
Mari and Nigel Vindis had been married for many years, having met in their teens. Importantly the entire estate had been accumulated during the course of their marriage which was very much an equal partnership. Mr Vindis was a business builder and Mrs Vindis a wife, mother and homemaker. In cases such as this the Family Court does not distinguish between the home maker and the money maker as both are integral cogs in the wheels of a successful partnership.
Mrs Vindis brings her case not though as a soon to be ex-wife, rather as a widow arguing that her “reasonable needs” have not been met by the terms of the Will. Mrs Vindis is asking the High Court to re-write her late husband’s will so as to make reasonable provision for her in a ruling that could make legal history. The Court is going to struggle with the competing principles of a reasonable and fair settlement upon divorce with the fundamental right we all have to choose how we leave our property in our Will.
Mrs Vindis’s barrister, David Rees, has argued in Court that: "The court is required to take into account the provision which Mari might reasonably have expected to receive if on the day on which the deceased died the marriage, instead of being terminated by death, had been terminated by a divorce.
"The family took expensive foreign holidays, travelling first class and staying in five star hotels...Mari's reasonable needs include provision to enable her to travel and continue to enjoy such holidays," he told the judge, Mr Justice Asplin.
In a further complicated twist to this sad tale, Mr Vindis’s sisters are also seeking millions from Mr Vindis’s estate claiming they were wrongly excluded from the family business which was founded in 1960 by their father.
Whilst currently Mrs Vindis’s two children, Gabriella and Alexander, are supporting their mother in her case quite clearly the provisions made by their father in his Will are substantially in excess of what is likely to remain in the estate after their mother and aunts’ competing claims have been dealt with.
The case has been adjourned for further evidence to be disclosed but does highlight some valuable issues:
Firstly, the importance of a detailed will and, whilst many put off thinking about death, making a will is really important and should not be delayed. For instance, when drawing up a will, it is important to be as detailed as possible to avoid your will being overturned by the courts. Our specialist tax and estate planning lawyers are able to help you in this regard from inheritance tax planning to Will writing and Lasting Power of Attorneys - it is vital to make sure you have detailed arrangements in place in the event of your untimely demise.
Secondly, in relation to family law, our family law specialists offer detailed and clear advice on all issues arising from your marital or relationship breakdown and are there to guide you through the legal process. We always consider with you the interplay between your rights as a spouse and your rights as a widow/widower. It is not always the best decision to get divorced and, for older couples for example, choosing to separate with a well drafted Separation Agreement or petition for judicial separation with a financial settlement covered in a Court Order reached by consent are options that should not be discounted.
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact a member of the family team or the tax and estate planning team.