Russell-Cooke recently acted for Odile Marteyn, the long term partner of well known entrepreneur Bernard Matthews, in relation to a dispute concerning Mr Matthews' estate.
Mr Matthews, who died in 2010, left both English and French wills.
The French will stipulated that Ms Marteyn was to inherit his valuable villa in the south of France, in recognition of their long relationship and her unfailing support. The English will provided for all worldwide tax to be paid from the English estate.
However, as a matter of French law, which governed the succession of the villa in France, 75% of the French villa had to pass to Mr Matthews' four children and only 25% could be freely passed to Ms Marteyn.
While one of Mr Matthews' four children agreed to respect his wishes, the other three children did not, and chose to exercise their French rights of inheritance and to take up their 56.25% share in the French villa. In addition the three children sought to rely on the English will and have the French tax on that 56.25% share paid from the English estate.
An application was made to ask the Court to determine whether the executors of the English estate were obliged to settle out of the English estate, the French tax on the portion of the villa passing to the children who were not respecting the wishes of the testator.
It was argued on behalf of Ms Marteyn that she should be compensated through the operation of the Doctrine of Election which states that a person cannot take a position both for and against a will. In other words the three children could not ignore the French will when enforcing their French inheritance rights, but then look to take advantage of the English will when looking to have the French tax paid from the English estate.
The compensation sought by Ms Marteyn was therefore the amount of French tax that was payable on the 56.25% share.
The three children argued that the Doctrine did not apply and that even if it did, the sum that would have settled the French Tax would remain in the English estate rather than pass to Ms Marteyn.
Mr Nicholas Strauss QC considered that as a matter of construction of the English will, it did not include payment of tax that was not to be paid by the executors or the beneficiaries ( the French tax being payable directly by the three children). He held that Mr Matthews would certainly not have intended that the three children should benefit from having the French tax paid on a gift that was not intended to pass to them in the first place. He therefore held that the executors were not obliged to settle the French tax.
Mr Strauss QC then considered the Doctrine of Election and stated that "if ever there was a case for equity to intervene, this is it". He considered that the three children could not in good conscience take the benefit under the wills (the payment of French tax), when that benefit arose as a result of an unintended gift. Consequently even if the construction decision was wrong, the Doctrine of Election still applied and Ms Marteyn was to be compensated.
The Russell-Cooke team consisted of Alison Regan and Gareth Ledsham of the Trust and Estate Disputes team, as well as Dawn Alderson and Patrick Delas in our French law team.
Ms Marteyn was advised in French.
This story has received a large amount of media coverage including BBC NEWS.