Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Candidate for the Longest Estate Administration - over 60 years!

An Epic Story of Procrastination?  Or an Epic Story of a Distaste for English Weather?

The U.K.'s Daily Mail has a story about, a long (very, very long) Probate dispute.

Incredibly, an English estate with a manor house and (at one time) 3,000 acres of farmland, and a steady rental income went unclaimed for decades.  The case is both interesting in a "Downton Abbey" kid of way, and a procedural way:  what is the result if a beneficiary refuses to accept property?

The estate is known as the Figg-Hoblyn estate, named after the family who first lived there beginning in the 1600s.   The saga which recently ended began with the estate plan set up in 1856.  As was the custom at the time, the estate was left to the oldest surviving male heir.  For those interested in what happened as a technical matter (well, let's not count how many of you make up that category, shall we?) the "estate plan" in question was not a Will or a Trust, but a deed, which contained trust-like provisions for ownership of the property and its income.  

Squire William Hoblyn had one son and four daughters.  When his son, Ernest, died shortly after William's death, the downside of the "eldest male heir system" was  brought into full relief.  None of the other Hoblyn daughters had yet married.  When one of them finally did marry, she first moved to Canada and then California (as, presumably, she did not have a legal right to the "family" estate).

Her oldest son, Francis Figg-Hoblyn, visited the estate in 1947 (after presumably becoming aware that he was now the oldest male heir), but was daunted by the amount of work needed to be done, and never took possession.  When Francis died in 1965 his eldest son, John, a former college professor with what reads as a fairly unconventional lifestyle, also refused to accept the estate, citing an unwillingness to pay taxes as a reason.  In the various articles you see from a Google search, it not entirely clear why John did not want to formally take possession of the property.,  "Taxes" do not seem to be the actual reason, since John would have owed no U.S. tax to accept the property, and  any UK tax could be paid by selling some of the property or through the collection of rental income.

Finally, when John died in 2011, the English Court was able to entertain a motion to amend the original Will to allow John's sisters to inherit the property.  This ruling was disappointing to William, a male cousin, but is welcomed by the local residents who now know the estate, which has been vacant since at least the 1940s, may now be rehabilitated by the new owner.

What is sometimes glossed over in the articles (since the thought of any "unclaimed" estate is so entertaining to those of us who will never inherit an estate in the first place) is that the court appointed administrator  in England had actually been renting the land out and collecting the rents during this time period.  This is what would happen in a California court if any heir could not be located -- the administration of the estate would continue, and distributions would be postponed until the heir was able to accept them. What makes the Figg-Hoblyn story so unusual is the length of time that a known heir refuses an inheritance.

The full article can be found here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2293296/The-5million-Cornwall-estate-left-ruins-rightful-male-heir-claim-40-years.html, or simply Google "Hoblyn estate" for further reading.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Moravec, III, a partner at Moravec, Varga and Mooney, A Partnership.
For a free 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210. The firm website is www.moravecslaw.com

The firm's office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108.  There is ample free parking.