Lynda Bellingham’s Sons Betrayed, as Feared
The late Lynda Bellingham’s lack of a proper estate plan risked leaving her sons with nothing – now her widower has done exactly what she least wanted him to do.
When Loose Women presenter Lynda Bellingham lost her battle with cancer in 2014, her blended family was plunged into turmoil. In a Traditional Will which she made in 2013 shortly after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she left her entire estate to her third husband, Michael Pattermore, expecting him to leave her share of their combined assets to her sons on his death.
At the same time, Pattermore made a Traditional Will mirroring hers. In his Will, he stipulated that the first £1million of his estate at his death – the amount the couple estimated Bellingham had brought into their 2008 marriage – would be left to her sons Robbie and Michael Peluso on his death, with any surplus being shared equally between the Peluso brothers and Pattermore’s own two children.
'We both wrote wills as a married couple and they mirrored each other in how we would leave our estate,' admits Pattermore.
Bellingham will undoubtedly have felt, at her death, that she could trust her husband to carry out her wishes and provide for her sons. But, with depressing inevitability, it turns out that her trust was misplaced.
A blended family at war.
War was declared between Bellingham’s sons and husband in April 2016, when, alarmed by their stepfather’s profligate spending on himself, and hurt by his decision to kick the younger of them out of the family home, the Peluso brothers launched a legal challenge seeking provision from her estate. Their fear that Pattermore’s absolute control over their late mother’s assets would leave them all but penniless, have proven to be well-founded.
After some legal wrangling - and much mud-slinging in the press on both sides – the legal proceedings were settled on terms that have not been fully disclosed. What is known is that the Pelusos are to receive one of Bellingham’s portfolio of properties. The property is estimated to be worth £700,000 to £800,000 and is let to tenants, but is by all accounts mortgaged to the hilt, leaving the boys with only a nominal amount of equity.
Predictably, Pattermore has now taken his revenge on the Pelusos for fighting back, by re-writing his own Will, disinheriting them altogether and leaving everything to his own son and daughter.
“I have re-written the will and they [the Pelusos] will get nothing from me.” Pattermore bragged to the Daily Mail
Can Pattermore do that?
In a word: yes. Having executed a Traditional Will in Pattermore’s favour, Bellingham passed all her assets into his absolute ownership when she died. His promise to look after her sons was never legally enforceable. Bellingham’s assets are now Pattermore’s to do with as he wishes, and to leave to whomever he chooses. There is nothing in law to prevent Pattermore going back on his promise and re-writing his earlier Will.
'Given the way property prices are in London, I estimate that Michael and Robbie have possibly said goodbye to close to £2million. They only have themselves to blame,' says Pattermore, 'My will has been changed completely and that is all down to their bitterness which is still going on.'
How could this have been prevented?
This cannot have been the outcome Lynda Bellingham was hoping for when she wrote her Will in 2013. Reeling from a cancer diagnosis, she would have been concerned to ensure, should the worst happen – which, sadly it did - that both her cherished husband and her beloved sons were equally well provided for.
She may, as many people with blended families do, have thought she faced a painful either-or dilemma: should she prioritise her husband’s security, leaving her sons to take their chances in the world? Or should she protect her children, potentially leaving her husband to do without?
But this is a toxic urban myth that blights so many blended families. It really doesn’t have to be this way. It genuinely is possible, in a blended family, to provide equitably both for the surviving spouse and for the children of the family.
Think about it properly, and early.
The first and most important advice for any blended family is to face this issue head-on as soon as possible, discuss it openly as a couple, or a family, and take well-considered, holistic legal advice. Bellingham and Pattermore left it until 2013 when Bellingham was highly vulnerable in the wake of her cancer diagnosis. It is incredibly difficult to make objective, informed decisions at such an emotionally fraught time.
Couples thinking about getting married for the second time, with kids from their previous relationships, need to regard their estate plan as an integral part of coming together as a blended family, just as important as planning the wedding and setting up home together.
It is also vitally important for a couple to do their research and arm themselves with as much information as possible, so that all suitable avenues can be explored and rational, knowledgeable decisions can be made. The guidance of an estate planner with a breadth of knowledge of all the relevant issues and available solutions will pay dividends in the long run.
What about property?
Life Interests and Rights of Occupation are two incredibly useful tools for passing the benefit of a property to both spouse and children in turn.
For example, you can leave your share of the family home to your own children, while giving your spouse a Right of Occupation for the rest of their life. This guarantees your children’s inheritance of what may be your main asset, whilst ensuring that your partner’s home for life is secured.
If your assets include buy to let property, you can leave a Life Interest to your spouse – ensuring they have the security of the rental income for the rest of their life – while passing ownership of the property to your children.
For co-owned properties, however, these measures only work if the co-ownership is a “tenancy in common” rather than a “life tenancy”. But you can easily convert a Joint Tenancy to a Tenancy in Common by making a Declaration of Severance and filing it at the Land Registry.
Consider a Family Trust Will.
If your assets are not all tied up in land – for example if a significant proportion of your assets are in shares and or investments – you can achieve a broader-spectrum solution by using a Family Trust Will, again to the advantage of both your spouse and your children. With a Family Trust Will, your assets – or an amount limited to £325,000 for tax purposes – go into a flexible trust on your death, usually managed to close family members. The rules of the trust are that the assets are to be used for your spouse’s comfort and welfare for the rest of their life, before ultimately passing to your respective children when both you and your spouse have passed away
Make the most of Life Insurance.
Another very effective way of ensuring that both spouse and children are well provided for is to take out ample life insurance and have it “written in trust” for the benefit of the chosen recipients.
For example, you could leave all your assets to your spouse in your Will, and take out a “whole of life” insurance policy written in trust in favour of your children, so that they receive a substantial cash endowment in the event of your death.
Many parents use this as a clever form of savings plan for the benefit of their children, because, unless you happen to live to the age of 110 or older, the policy proceeds are usually far greater than the sum of the monthly premiums paid.
Don't repeat Lynda Bellingham’s mistakes.
The Pelusos’ heart-rending warning to bended families everywhere still rings true:
‘Don’t make the mistake Mum made. She would be devastated if she knew what we’d been through since her death. Knowing how much she loved us, that’s the saddest thing of all.’
Making a start couldn’t be easier. Simply call us on 0151 601 5399 or complete the contact form below, and we’ll give you the tools you need, to identify and implement the measures that will ensure security and harmony in your family long after you’re gone.
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"I am a retired divorcee with a complicated family situation. Allowing my estate to be distributed in line with to the intestacy rules when I am gone would not have been a fair reflection of my wishes, so I knew it was vital that I make a will. I wanted to ensure that particular members of my family were provided for. I also have a child who is self-employed, and I was worried about providing for her in case her business failed and her inheritance was seized by the Insolvency Service. Will Written have created an estate plan for me that places my assets into a trust when I am gone, so that the trustees can manage my assets and keep them in the family."