It has been an exciting few weeks in East London for supporters of West Ham United. First, West Ham became Europa Conference League champions, triumphing 2-1 over Fiorentina with a late goal in a tight and tense final. Then, on Saturday 15 July they completed the largest value player sale in their history with the reported £105 million sale of Declan Rice to Arsenal. Declan was an academy player who cost West Ham nothing to sign. However, there are currently question marks and undoubtedly concerns over the future ownership of West Ham United.
Mr Gold, the late joint chairman and 25% owner of West Ham, would no doubt have loved to witness these recent successes but unfortunately missed all of this as he died earlier this year following a short illness. It has since been reported that Mr Gold died without having made a valid Will, meaning that the succession of his estate, including his interest in West Ham, together with the remainder of his estate, reportedly worth c.£125 million, stand to pass under the statutory intestacy rules.
The statutory intestacy rules in England and Wales provide for the fixed distribution of a deceased’s estate to certain relatives in an order of priority.
At the time of his passing, Mr Gold had two adult daughters with his late ex-wife and he was living with his fiancée, with whom it is understood he had been in a relationship for many years and engaged to for the last 15 years.
In these circumstances, being unmarried with adult children, Mr Gold’s estate will pass to his two daughters in equal shares. Sadly, shortly following his death, Mr Gold’s eldest daughter, Jacqueline Gold, also passed away. However, having survived her father, Jacqueline’s entitlement to her father’s estate would still pass to her estate, to be administered in accordance with any valid Will she made or the intestacy rules applicable to her estate.
Another complexity with Mr Gold and other business owner’s estates, is the potential dilution of a substantial, or sometimes majority shareholding, to various minority interests which could lead to the loss of rights or control of a business.
Claims on an estate
The intestacy rules make absolutely no provision for a surviving fiancée, partner or cohabitee, irrespective of how long the couple have been living together or even if the couple have children together – an area of the law which has recently been examined by the Women and Equalities Committee (The rights of cohabiting partners). Where a cohabitee is not sufficiently provided for under the intestacy rules, they may be forced to make a claim against the deceased’s estate for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”).
Where an individual finds themselves either disinherited, or at least disappointed with the entitlement, under the statutory intestacy rules, they can apply to court for “reasonable financial provision” to be made for them from a UK domiciled individual’s estate under the 1975 Act.
In determining the provision, the court may consider, amongst many factors, Mr Gold’s fiancée’s age, her own assets and her needs and the duration of their cohabitation and/or financial dependence, as well as the needs of those standing to inherit under the intestacy rules. These claims are often time-consuming, costly, delay the administration of an estate and can often lead to deterioration in the surviving parties’ relationships.
Having not prepared a valid Will, Mr Gold has not taken the opportunity of choosing suitable executors and potentially trustees. The choice of executors and trustees is important because these individuals will be responsible for reporting and administering the estate, together with managing any trusts in the longer term, which can be a burdensome task. When appointing executors, it is important to consider their knowledge, experience, business acumen, understanding of the family and the testator’s wishes and capacity to take on this significant role.
In the absence of appointed executors, there is a statutory order of persons able to apply to act as the administrator(s) of the estate by obtaining the Letters of Administration. In the case of Mr Gold, it is reported that his surviving daughter Vanessa has obtained the grant of Letters of Administration.
There are many complicating factors with Mr Gold’s estate, meaning that the succession of his interest in West Ham may not be resolved for some time.
To minimise complications, it is important for clients to take appropriate advice in advance and ensure they have a valid and appropriately drafted Will in place. If you would like to discuss any of the matters raised in this blog, please contact Matthew Barnett, Jessica Brittain or any member of the Private Client team.
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Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.
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