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High Court upholds that illegitimate children of aristocrat can inherit from his estate

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This very unusual case has caught my eye this week. The High Court has this week confirmed that the children of a bigamous aristocrat, and cousin to Princess Diana, can inherit his huge estate and fortune.
Alexander Montagu, the 13th Duke of Manchester, must share his wealth despite arguing that his offspring should not benefit because his marriage to their mother was void, as he was not yet divorced. The Duke, born in Australia, met his 'bride' Wendy Buford in a country and western night club in California, and asked her out to dinner. They married in 1993, by which time, Wendy was heavily pregnant. Their son Alexander, now 17, was born a week later. Their daughter, Ashley, now 12, was born in 1999.
At the time of their marriage, the Duke 'failed to mention' that their marriage was bigamous and therefore void, because he was already married to a Marion Stoner, in Australia. He had married her in 1984. he Duke did not become divorced from Marion Stoner until 1996, three years into his ‘marriage’ to Wendy.
The Duke separated from Wendy in around 2007, and trustees of their father's estate in England and Ireland stopped paying them maintenance in 2009 when they discovered they were the offspring of a bigamous marriage. An inheritance dispute therefore arose, unusually before a person died, and the trustees had to apply to the High Court for a decision as to whether Alexander and Ashley could inherit from his estate, and receive maintenance while he was still alive.
Earlier this week in the High Court, Mr Justice Floyd upheld the children's right to benefit from the estate, and that the children were viewed as legitimate, despite the invalidity of their parents' marriage. The judge said there was “absolutely no doubt that Wendy reasonably believed that the marriage was valid” and the laws of Australia, California and England all allowed the children of bigamous marriages to be treated as legitimate.
As a solicitor specialising in disputed Wills and Estates, I found this to be a very interesting case, as the inheritance dispute arose before the person has died. Usually, such cases only arise when a person has died, and their children have not been provided for. The children can then bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. As this case involved ongoing maintenance, the Court had to intervene sooner to confirm that the children could inherit.
You do not have to have the wealth of a Duke to have an inheritance dispute, and often people do not know that they can even bring a claim if they have not been provided for. If you are in any doubt as to whether you may be able to bring a claim, then contact our specialist litigation team who deal with inheritance disputes on 01616 966 229. If you are of limited financial means, you may even be entitled to Legal Aid, and we can advise you of this quickly over the phone.
By inheritance disputes solicitor, Heather Korwin-Szymanowska