A woman who was the partner of a Cypriot businessman for the last six years of his life has won a lengthy legal fight to keep a substantial slice of his fortune.
A previous decision to award 51 year-old Diane Holliday ownership of the couple’s home in Knaphill, as well as Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, was upheld at the Civil Court of Appeal. The house is thought to be worth around £450,000 and the cemetery up to £1 million.
The Lords Justice Lloyd and Sullivan, along with Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wall, the current president of the Family Division, dismissed an appeal from five of the seven children of Turkish Cypriot Ramadan Güney. They had argued that it would be wrong to give Mrs Holliday the majority of MrGüney’s fortune within the UK.
Although Mr Güney and Mrs Holliday were unmarried and he did not make a will naming her, she was the dependent mother of his seventh child Houssein and therefore entitled to financial support from his estate.
The judges therefore upheld the original award made in November 2011 by Her Hon Judge Lindsey Kushner. The Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wall said: “I detect no error of principle, rather the robust exercise of a judicial discretion”.
They rejected the claims of Mr Güney’s children that it was wrong to treat Mrs Holliday as their father’s widow.
Mr Güney’s wife Süheyla died in 1992.
74 year-old Mr Güney died in Cyprus in 2006: reportedly of a heart attack although his family have disputed this and suggested murder. He had emigrated from Cyprus in 1958 and made a fortune in music publishing. Mrs Holliday claims his total estate is worth £28 million.
In 1985 he bought Brookwood Cemetery, famed as the ‘London Necropolis’ and one of the largest cemeteries in western Europe. After his death Mr Güney was interred in a mausoleum on the site.
The case hinged, like many divorce settlements, on Mrs Holliday’s needs as the mother of the business man’s child. Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain parties are entitled to apply for financial provision following a person’s death:
Where after the commencement of this Act a person dies domiciled in England and Wales and is survived by any of the following persons:—
(a)the wife or husband of the deceased;
(b)a former wife or former husband of the deceased who has not remarried;
[F1(ba)any person (not being a person included in paragraph (a) or (b) above) to whom subsection (1A) below applies;]
(c)a child of the deceased;
(d)any person (not being a child of the deceased) who, in the case of any marriage to which the deceased was at any time a party, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage;
(e)any person (not being a person included in the foregoing paragraphs of this subsection) who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased;
that person may apply to the court for an order under section 2 of this Act on the ground that the disposition of the deceased’s estate effected by his will or the law relating to intestacy, or the combination of his will and that law, is not such as to make reasonable financial provision for the applicant.
[F2(1A)This subsection applies to a person if the deceased died on or after 1st January 1996 and, during the whole of the period of two years ending immediately before the date when the deceased died, the person was living—
(a)in the same household as the deceased, and
(b)as the husband or wife of the deceased.]
Subsection 1A was the hurdle which Ms Holliday had to surmount in addition to an earlier issue as to whether the court had jurisdiction to entertain the case at all.
Although Mr Güney died while in Cyprus, Her Hon Judge Kushner ruled that as he lived in the UK and had chosen Brookwood as his burial place, he was legally domiciled within the UK.
In his Court of Appeal ruling, the Rt Hon Nicholas Wall noted that, when liabilities were taken into consideration, Mr Güney’s UK estate fell some way short of meeting Mrs Holliday’s needs, so it was entirely reasonable, he concluded to give ownership of the cemetery and the Knaphill house to Mrs Holliday.
This has clearly been an extremely bitter case, rife with accusations and wild stories. MrGüney’s children have spent large sums on legal fees – as long ago as March 2010, their bills had already reached £500,000. At one point, Her Hon Judge Kushner went far as to label their behaviour “despicable”.
But at heart case revolves around the relatively simple legal concept of needs. Mrs Holliday’s needs as the father of Mr Güney child, described by Sir Nicholas Wall as “the claimant’s reasonable needs for maintenance” have been given priority over her legal status or the absence of a will. If this had been a divorce rather than an inheritance dispute, the judges would have given equal prominence to the needs of each party and the principle of sharing would have been brought into account. Even so, compare and contrast with the position in law had the couple split up during Mr Güney’s lifetime. Given the lack of cohabitation law she would in all probability have received nothing.
Having now lost their appeal, the Güney siblings too must now content themselves with a Cypriot estate which includes 130 properties.