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Oxo Mum’s Family Torn Asunder by a Badly Made Will

How poor estate planning has left the late Loose Women star’s sons powerless – and possibly penniless.

Eighteen months on from her sad death, Lynda Bellingham’s sons are enduring not only bereavement, but also the burden of having to challenge their beloved mother’s will through the courts.  

 

A blended family divided by poor estate planning

Ms Bellingham got together with Michael Pattemore eleven years ago, when her eldest boy, Michael was 21 and her youngest, Robbie, was 16, and the couple were married in 2008. Theirs was clearly a blissfully happy marriage. She was also devoted to her boys, having raised them as a single Mum for ten years after the breakup of her marriage to their father. In a moving letter read out at her funeral, she said to her sons, ‘I love you both so much it hurts.’

But poor estate planning has resulted in her sons being deprived of their inheritance and inadequately provided for. Michael and Robbie say their stepfather has evicted Robbie from the family home and squandered much of their mother’s estate on expensive treats and lavish holidays for himself.

“This isn’t about money,’ says Michael, ‘it’s about the fact that he’s got control over everything my mother worked for her entire life, and we know that’s not what she wanted.’

It appears that the cause of this tragic situation is the wording of their Mum’s Will, in which, the boys understand, she left everything to Pattemore.

Robbie and Michael say their Mum wanted Pattemore to make sure they were provided for, but so far, this isn’t what has happened.

At first, the boys had a battle on their hands even to see a copy of their mother’s will. Eventually, Pattemore, they allege, read it out to them.

“Everything’s been left to me” Pattemore allegedly told Michael, “so it will go to you when I decide.”

According to Robbie:

‘When he read it to me later, he actually chuckled and tried to make a joke, saying, “So you’d better not do anything to annoy me.” 

So far, the boys have received just £750 each, and Robbie has been forced to move out of the family home.

“Our stepfather has everything, and if he wants to spend it all or lose it on bad investments, he can.”

 

So how did it all go so horribly wrong for Lynda’s Bellingham’s family?

Her first mistake was procrastination. Significant milestones in your life are a time for making or updating your will. When Ms Bellingham remarried in 2008, she should have sought proper advice then and taken action to ensure that her whole family was properly provided for.

We all put off making our wills because we like to think we’re immortal and “there’s no need to do it yet”. But Ms Bellingham left it until December 2013, just ten months before the end of her life, when she was terminally, seriously, ill, and desperately vulnerable, hardly the best time to make objective decisions about what’s best for all concerned.

The second mistake was not to have an open discussion with the whole family. Clearly, the highly emotionally charged atmosphere within a family about to lose its leading lady is not the right environment for a constructive discussion about the future. Again, if Ms Bellingham had approached this decision in a positive way in mid-life, perhaps early in her marriage, or as her wedding approached, rather than in her final months, such a conversation might have been more feasible. As it was, her boys found it impossible to broach the subject.

‘It was all handled so badly. If they’d both sat us down and talked us through their plans before she died, it wouldn’t have been such a shock.” says Michael, “Honestly, though, I don’t know if she really understood what the outcome would be.”

As to the content of her will, we can only speculate, but Ms Bellingham didn’t need to feel that she was in an either/or dilemma, of having to choose whether to provide for her husband or her sons. If she had made a Protective Property Trust Will, she could have ensured that her husband was comfortably provided for whilst ensuring that her sons received their inheritance.

A Protective Property Trust Will would have set up a family trust, which safeguarded her assets for the benefit of the whole family. Her Trustees would have been empowered to endow her husband with a comfortable lifestyle, but duty bound to prevent him from squandering her assets to the detriment of her sons.  

Her choice of Trustees would have been an important opportunity to safeguard her assets for her husband and sons alike. Instead of placing all the control in the hands of her husband, she could have appointed her sons to act as co-trustees so that they could have their say in the way her assets were managed, invested and used. And to prevent friction within the family, she could have appointed a trusted professional, such as her solicitor or accountant, as an additional trustee, to act as a neutral arbiter, voice of reason and objective upholder of her wishes.  

 

Learning from Lynda Bellingham’s mistakes.

Michael and Robbie don’t blame their Mum for the way things have turned out.

‘I think deep down she knew the arrangements she’d made weren’t right”, says Michael, “but I don’t think she wanted to confront her impending death. Who does?’

But they do so wish their Mum had done things differently. If they had, these bereaved young men wouldn’t be forced to contemplate the awful step of taking their stepfather to court.

‘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.’

 

If Lynda Bellingham's story gives you a shudder of recognition, don’t be afraid to seek advice and take action to protect yourself and your family. The first step is the hardest, but it’s also surprisingly easy – just give us a call on 0151 601 5399 or complete the contact form below for a confidential chat about your situation and what you can do.

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