At the Central London County Court today Her Honour Judge Karen Walden-Smith found in favour of Charles Wooldridge, in a claim brought by his step-mother, Thandi Stratford Wooldridge over the contested estate of his late father, construction businessman Ian Wooldridge, who died tragically in a helicopter accident in 2010.
The case is believed to be the highest value estate in any reported cases under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependants) Act 1975. The estate included a substantial family home, significant interests in the Wooldridge group of companies and a share in a leading polo estate.
The litigation, which has lasted three years, centred around whether Mr Wooldridge's homemade Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Wooldridge. In an estate worth just over £10 million, Mrs Wooldridge received the substantial family home (now worth c£4.25 million) and £1.6 million in other assets. Mrs Wooldridge claimed that she was entitled to greater financial provision from the estate to fund her level of expenditure, which she acknowledged supported a luxurious and extravagant lifestyle. Charles Wooldridge said that the estate simply could not support the demands Mrs Wooldridge was making on it and the family business (that his father had intended him and his young brother Rhett to carry on) would be in jeopardy as a result of her claim.
Her Honour Judge Walden-Smith ordered that Mrs Wooldridge was not entitled to any further sums from her husband's estate and that "Thandi has not established, in my judgment, that the Will fails to provide her with sufficient financial provision to meet her needs. Thandi has enough."
Clarissa Coleman, partner at Addleshaw Goddard LLP, advising Charles Wooldridge said: "This case is one of the three biggest estates disputes that have been litigated in recent times and we are therefore delighted to have secured a positive result for our client.
In cases brought under the 1975 Act (one of the only means for individuals to challenge the terms of a valid will), the test is still what would have been reasonable financial provision for the claimant to receive in the circumstances of the estate, so it is common for a "luxurious" lifestyle to be taken into account in making a decision. In this case, however, the Judge deemed that the wish of the testator that the business be passed to his children was a key factor, particularly when taking into consideration the personal circumstances of Mrs Wooldridge."
Charles Wooldridge said: "I am very pleased with the Judge's decision. The businesses will now remain with Rhett and me exactly as Dad had wanted, giving us both the opportunity to continue what Dad started. It's a relief that the case is over as it has been a very tough three years. Hopefully now we can have some closure on this difficult period of our lives."
The Addleshaw Goddard LLP team was led by Clarissa Coleman and included Natasha Winter and Christopher Noel.
Addleshaw Goddard LLP instructed: Penelope Reed QC and William East of 5 Stone Buildings