Judge laments ‘Bleak House’ dispute

Posted: 3rd October 2013

Bleak HouseFamily disputes can end in disaster if the people involved are unwilling to compromise. This week, a judge  told three siblings engaged in an intractable row over their inheritance from their deceased’s mother that they could end up losing everything, like the characters in Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

In the five years since the mother died, her middle-aged children had been at loggerheads over who should get what from her ever-diminishing estate. On her death, the mother’s estate included a café business, her home, a flat and a plot of land in Italy with a net value of approximately £290,000.

However, partly due to the years of in-fighting between her children, her estate was now estimated to be worth less than £110,000. There was, as a result, no longer enough in the pot to meet all her bequests in full and her former home had been repossessed by mortgage lenders.

In his decision, the judge said it was his duty to follow as closely as possible the mother’s wishes, expressed in her will, and gave detailed rulings on how what remains of her estate should be distributed between her children. He warned the siblings that he had not decided every issue and that the administration of the estate was still ‘by no means finalised.’

He concluded: "It is, to my mind, a great pity that they were not able to reach an agreement. Apart from other factors, it means that substantial costs have been incurred in these proceedings which will further diminish the estate…if they are not careful there is a risk that, like the litigants in Bleak House, the whole estate will be eaten up in costs.”