High Court Freezes Estate Over Future Injury Compensation Claims
Posted on 12th August 2020
When a person dies, they can sometimes leave family members who believe that they will be inheriting from the deceased, when in reality they are not. For example, a spouse or partner, children or grandchildren. If certain people believe that they should be entitled to have received something from their deceased family member, they may decide to try and make a claim for provision against their Estate. The legal basis for these claims can be found under the Inheritance (Provision For Family and Dependants) Act 1975, or you can read more about claims against an Estate in our Probate Solicitors in Preston’s blog, here.
A less common occurrence, however, is one that has recently been highlighted in the High Court case of Re Studdert, 2020 EWHC 1869 Ch. A former teacher and clergyman, Michael Studdert, died in 2018, leaving specific legacies for individuals and churches, with the residue of his Estate to be given to an educational trust that he had created four decades earlier.
However, Mr Studdert was convicted on being found in possession of indecent images of children, between 1998 and 2006. He was therefore imprisoned, defrocked (removed as a clergyman) and placed on the sex offenders’ register.
Due to these issues during Mr Studdert’s lifetime, the Personal Representatives of his Estate were worried that victims of his crimes may try to make a claim for compensation. Due to the fact that these claims could make the claimants creditors, and as such would be entitled to their compensation before any of the beneficiaries were entitled to their share of the Estate, the Executors were worried that if they did not fulfil these payments, they could be personally liable for them in the future.
Our Probate Solicitors in Preston would explain that, in normal circumstances, the Executors of an Estate could place something known as Section 27 Notices, which you can read more about here, or even making a retention in case of a future claim. However, as no one had alleged that Mr Studdert had assaulted them, and there was no evidence during his Court case that he had, in fact, assaulted anyone, this may not protect against any future claims.
Therefore, the Executors applied to the High Court for guidance about how to proceed in dealing with any unknown creditors. The High Court told the Executors that they should distribute the smaller legacies (some of which were left to suspected victims of Mr Studdert’s behaviour), with the remainder of the Estate being frozen.
In April’s hearing, after investigations by the UK Police and Church of England schools where Mr Studdert have worked led to no claimants, the High Court held that the Executors were to create and maintain a website, providing details of Mr Studdert’s career. The website should be available in English, Danish, Italian and Polish, and should contain detils of how claimants could contact the Executor’s solicitors. The information – or similar – was also to be published on Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. This would allow any offences committed against children whilst Mr Studdert was outside of the UK to be allowed for.
Until another hearing or direction from the Court, the Estate is to remain frozen, although the Court did note that this was not a bar that could remain in place indefinitely.
Chief Master Marsh commented that it would be possible that no victims would come forward, however, they needed a reasonable opportunity to do so, and therefore a bar on distribution is, at this time, proportionate. He also commented that, if necessary, a compensation scheme should be considered.
You can find the Court’s approved Judgement online, here,
Of course, our Probate Solicitors in Preston are fortunate enough that, even with the many years of experience that the team has, they have not had to deal with an Estate where the distribution of funds was barred, so this is not an everyday occurred.
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