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Debt wrangle is a lesson for us all

15/04/2016

It has all the ingredients of a tabloid tale – members of the English aristocracy and the heir to a multi million pound fortune at loggerheads over unpaid debts. Throw in an internationally renowned pop star linked to the dispute and it makes you want to read on! 

But the issues raised in the wrangle over the estate of the late 4th Viscount Hambleden serve as a warning to us all.  

The case centres around debts that the Viscountess Hambleden, widow of the late 4th Viscount Hambleden, has allegedly failed to repay to her late husband’s estate.

Her stepson, the 5th Viscount Hambleden, who is heir to the WH Smith fortune, and his late father’s estate took legal action against his stepmother to get the money repaid. Incidentally, but of no relevance to the story, the current Viscount Hambleden happens to be the long-term partner of ABBA singer Frida Lyngstad.

Margaret Rowe, a partner in the Wills, Probate and Lifetime Planning team at FBC Manby Bowdler, explains how you should learn from the family fall out.

“If you die, any debts owing to you become an asset of your estate and need to be added to the value of the estate for inheritance purposes. So if you have lent money to someone and are expecting it to be repaid, you need to account for this in your will.

“This is subject to any waiver of the debt in your will – for instance, if you are happy for the debt to be written off if you die. Executors have a responsibility to investigate whether any debts are due to be repaid so the easiest way to make things clear is to keep a written agreement or record of any agreement with your will.

“Even if you’re only talking about small sums and not the seven figures the Hambleden family are arguing over, it makes the process of administering your estate a lot easier at a time when emotions will already be running high.”

Margaret, who is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners and of Solicitors For the Elderly, said even if you’ve already prepared a will, it’s vital to ensure that loans and repayments are well documented.

“If you have lent money to your children for instance and are happy for it be waived on your death, they could end up having to repay it unless you clearly state that. 

“If someone fails to repay, as in the Hambleden case, they can consider formal legal action against them, to get the money back. All of this can be easily avoided by keeping your will up to date.”

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