Wealthy Widow Makes Inheritance Claim for Secret Assets

Inheritance Claim lawyer, Naomi Ireson, reviews the decision in Dellal v Dellal &  Others [2015] EWHC 907 Fam

This case concerns an inheritance claim in respect of the estate of a high profile property dealer, Jack Dellal, who died on 28 October 2012, aged 89.

The inheritance claim was made by his widow, Ruanne Dellal. She married Jack in 1997 following 10 years cohabitation. It was his second marriage; her first. They had two children now aged 15 and 12. The defendants are the four children of Jack's first marriage, two  children of a non-marital relationship, a grandson and Jack's sister.

Jack left a Will, executed in 2006, which left virtually his entire estate to Ruanne. His disclosed estate as declared by Ruanne to the HMRC amounted to £15.4 million. It included minimal cash and no business assets.
Ruanne did not accept that the disclosed estate represented the true value of Jack’s assets. Jack was a well-known business man and had made huge profit from high risk property transactions. In 2012 his wealth was listed in the Sunday Times Rich Listed at £445 million.

Ruanne had some knowledge of Jack’s business dealings and transfers. For instance, soon after their marriage he transferred his shares in a company, Allied Commercial, to his children. At that time, the company was worth £56.4 million. Ruanne claimed there was evidence that family members conducted substantial transactions, possibly via trusts, and that there was also a Panamanian company which handled all the cash used for Jack’s business deals.

Ruanne therefore commenced an application under section 10 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which states:-

(1) Where an application is made to the court for an order under section 2 of this Act, the applicant may, in the proceedings on that application, apply to the court for an order……
(a) that, less than six years before the date of the death of the deceased, the deceased with the intention of defeating an application for financial provision under this Act made a disposition, and
(b) that full valuable consideration for that disposition was not given by the person to whom or for the benefit of whom the disposition was made (in this section referred to as “the donee”) or by any other person, and
(c) that the exercise of the powers conferred by this section would facilitate the making of financial provision for the applicant under this Act,

Then … the court may order the donee (whether or not at the date of the order he holds any interest in the property disposed of to him or for his benefit by the deceased) to provide, for the purpose of the making of that financial provision, such sum of money or other property as may be specified in the order.

The consequence of a section 10 application is that any person to whom Jack transferred an asset during the six year period prior to his death, with the intention of defeating a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, may be ordered to repay that money to the estate.

The defendants applied to have Ruanne’s claim dismissed without a trial. They said she had failed to identify any disposition to them within six years prior to Jack’s death, that she had not established a “bad motive” as required by section 10 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and that in any event, she was wealthy in her own right and as such, her underlying claim for reasonable financial provision was without merit.

The hearing as to whether or not Ruanne’s claim should be dismissed took place in March 2015. The Judge was sceptical about Ruanne’s estimates of Jack’s true wealth and the lack of evidence of outright dispositions during the six year period. However, the Judge found a strong prima facie case that Jack had very considerable resources and there was a reasonable inference that some were held in trusts.

The Judge ordered the defendants to disclose any documents which will assist Ruanne to establish the existence of any trusts established within the six year time limit. The application to dismiss Ruanne’s claim was adjourned until such disclosure was made.

Watch this space …

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