21 May 2018

Show us your skeletons!

By Fiona Hewitt, Director, Hayes + Storr.

If there is one thing we do very well in the UK it is royal pageantry, and the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle did not disappoint. The event had something to please all the crowds, from ardent royalists to celebrity spotters and those who just like to watch a good parade.

Of course, any royal wedding gives rise to months of allegation and gossip in the tabloid press, and this was no exception. Without even trying to pay attention, it was hard to avoid the embarrassing revelations about Ms Markle’s family members: her difficult relationship with her father; the collusion of her half-sister with paparazzi photographers; her half-brother’s open letter to the Prince warning him against the marriage; and the disappointment of the siblings that they weren’t invited to attend.

But stories of this sort are nothing new, and we don’t have to delve very far into the history of the royals themselves to find some ‘family dysfunctionality’. In the relatively recent past we have seen the abdication of a king in connection with his marriage to an unpopular American divorcee, alleged scandals surrounding Princess Margaret, and of course the divorce of Prince Harry’s own parents and revelations about their unhappy marriage and extra-marital affairs. We are told that Queen Victoria’s children fell out with her as well as with each other, and further back still, the Prince can claim descent from some who not only disliked their relatives but had them put to death.

In fact, if we are completely honest, which of us doesn’t have the odd skeleton in the family cupboard? Even if family relations currently seem harmonious, a little time spent researching the family tree will often turn up something embarrassing. When clients come to see us to prepare Wills, they are often very reticent about family problems. Understandably, people are reluctant to disclose details of, for example, squabbling children, ungrateful grandchildren or long-standing rifts with siblings. However, it is very important that we are given all the relevant background information, so we can advise you properly about the distribution of your estate, the possibility of challenges, and what can be done to prevent them.

A disgruntled relative may be able to make a claim against the estate if they are left out of a Will or receive less than they were expecting. If you tell us who they are and why they are being treated differently, we can minimise the chances of them succeeding. Detailed attendance notes on our files, confirmation of your mental capacity and confidential letters explaining your actions will all help. No doubt the new Duchess of Sussex’s family issues will soon be forgotten by the tabloids in favour of more up to date scandal. And thankfully, most of us will never suffer public revelations about our own problems. But please remember to tell your solicitor about your skeletons before you put them all back in the cupboard!

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