07/02/2007

‘Rolling Stones will battle’ highlights issue with all second marriages, says Yorkshire law firm Gordons

Andrew Linden, personal consultant

The sons of a City businessman who helped manage the fortunes of the Rolling Stones yesterday decided to settle a High Court battle with his second wife in the High Court over his multi-million-pound estate.

This high profile case has created headlines throughout the world, but a Yorkshire law firm has warned that such serious fall-outs are becoming more and more common in any family where a divorce and re-marriage has taken place.

Andrew Linden, Personal Law  Consultant at Leeds and Bradford-based Gordons, said: “Situations like this are not the preserve of the very wealthy. The law regarding wills and how estates are divided up applies equally to everyone regardless of status and, unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of disputes.

“Problems occur because people often fail to appreciate that a second marriage revokes any previous will they may have made. This means it is extremely important for second-time round newly weds to re-assess exactly how they want to distribute their assets upon the event of their death. By ensuring they take time and care to establish a new will – and are similarly conscientious when any alterations are made to it – serious family upset and argument can be avoided.”

On the sixth day of a hotly contested hearing in London, the judge was told that the banker’s second wife, Lady Caroline Cox-Johnson, had reached an agreement with his three sons from his first marriage. Under the deal, James, Timothy and Nicholas Cox-Johnson agreed to honour their father’s amended will, which substantially increased the share of his estate left to their stepmother.

In the case, the three sons divided up millions of pounds of Richard Cox-Johnson’s offshore assets after he died aged 70 in 2005. His English estate – £2.6 million of assets and his 200-year-old £1 million Gloucestershire home – went to his second wife, Lady Caroline Cox-Johnson, daughter of the 5th Earl of Stradbroke.

But the sons said their father – a former managing director of Leopold Joseph & Co, the firm that looked after the Stones’ finances – lacked mental capacity when he made his final will just a matter of weeks before his death.

They wanted the Court to declare instead for a 2001 will that made no provision for Lady Caroline, although she will keep their home, Skaiteshill House in Stroud. Lady Caroline’s solicitor argued that Mr Cox-Johnson knew what he was doing up until his death.

Andrew continued: “It is important for anyone who is re-marrying and drawing up a new will to consider a number of issues. Firstly, do not be afraid to tell your solicitor about your family relations – they will merely become apparent upon your death and potentially cause upset by contesting your will.

“Secondly, consider the impact of inheritance tax and how it might adversely effect family relationships if people within your family feel that they have not received their ‘fair share’. If you are an older person, you should also consider keeping your pre-marital assets separate so that they do not end up being fought over by step-family members.

“Finally, you should also keep the will updated, and ensure that wherever possible you instruct the same solicitor. Having different lawyers can create confusion and lead to unwanted results.”

For further information please contact Andrew Linden at andrew.linden@gordonsllp.com