It is never wise to count your inheritance before it actually lands in your lap.
The rich and famous are notorious for limiting relatives’ access to their money, often believing it would be in their interests to work for pay rather than receive free funds for life.
But such actions can lead to ill feeling and resentment, breaking up what might have been a solid family unit, and sometimes draining any inheritance with extensive legal costs.
Earlier this year three of the four children of Gina Rinehart, an extremely wealthy Australian (herself an heiress) issued legal proceedings to prevent their mother from postponing the date at which they would inherit under a trust set up by her late father. They allege that rather than coming into the funds last year, their mother has ensured that the trust will not pay out for a further fifty-odd years, when they will be well into their eighties.
Mother, on the other hand, notes that they have all enjoyed privileged lives and that it is arguably in their best interests “to force them to go to work and reconsider their holidaying lifestyles and attitudes”.
The long-running legal dispute has involved teams of lawyers through a series of applications, and though in October Gina agreed to re-instate the earlier vesting date, lawsuits have continued as three of her children are now seeking to have her removed as a trustee. Their actions could prove counter-productive if legal costs escalate.
Even if a parent tries specifically to exclude children from her will, the result may not be as intended. Joan Crawford famously disinherited her two elder children, but they were able successfully to contest the will, and daughter Christina wrote an excoriating autobiography a year after her mother’s death which trashed her name for posterity.
Father-of-three Bill Gates has vowed to leave his fortune to good causes through his charitable foundation, rather than to his children, believing this better both for them and for society. Tony Curtis chose not to provide for his five children, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis, in favour of his widow, 42 years his junior and not the mother of the children. Legal proceedings are pending to decide whether undue influence was at play.
Whatever you think of the law, it is always wise to ensure that you give clear directions in your will, including your reasons for doing so, if you propose to dispose of your assets in any way that may not appear to be fair. And remember, whilst the law withholds the protection of defamation from the dead, you may want to ensure that not only your money, but your good name, will be protected beyond the grave.