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Downton Abbey and a surprising inheritance issue…

Date Added 22.11.22

The popular period drama, Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the wealthy Crawley family, set on the fictional Yorkshire estate of Downton Abbey, through the years 1912 to 1926.

The recently released sequel film, called ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’, takes the Crawley family on a venture overseas in 1928 to the South of France, with a surprising inheritance dilemma.  The family is astonished to learn from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Violet Crawley), that she was gifted a long time ago, a villa in the South of France by the Marquis de Montmirail (a French aristocrat who had recently passed away), with whom she had enjoyed a relationship for some time, prior to marrying the then Earl of Grantham.

The Dowager Countess, who is advancing in years, decides to put her affairs in order and elects to bequeath the villa in her Will to her great-granddaughter, Sybbie, to afford her a similar financial standing to that of her cousins. These amendments cause the Dowager Countess to reveal her ownership of the villa to the Crawley family, much to their dismay. The Dowager Countess is quick to comment: “Do I look as if I’d turn down a villa in the South of France?”.

The plot thickens when the Marquis’ widow and heir learn that the villa they occupy has not been left within the family by the Marquis’ Will, but was in fact gifted in lifetime by the Marquis to the Dowager Countess. In an attempt to smooth the way between the two families, the Dowager Countess insists upon the Crawley family visiting the French villa.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Crawleys are not warmly welcomed by the Marquis’ widow, and relations become further strained when a photograph of the young Dowager Countess is found within the Marquis’ personal display cabinet. The Marquis’ widow announces that she intends to fight for what she called home, through the local French courts! Much to her disappointment, she is advised that she is unable to successfully challenge the Marquis’ gift of the villa under the French succession laws.

The film’s storyline is not an uncommon set of circumstances to arise within the area of Contentious Trusts & Probate. Our Contentious Trusts & Probate team has a great deal of experience in advising upon both challenges to the validity of gifts in lifetimes (such as the transfer of property for nil value) and claims by spouses, who consider that they have not been reasonably financially provided for in their late husband or wife’s Will.

If you have a similar set of circumstances to those arising from this article… Talk to Tollers on 01604 258558. Our experienced contentious trusts and probate solicitors will be happy to discuss things further.

Read more about Challenging Lifetime Gifts here

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