Europe’s largest cemetery has been awarded to the partner of a deceased businessman after the Court of Appeal ruled that she and the child they had together are entitled to reasonable provision from his estate.
amadan Guney owned Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey, when he died intestate, aged 74, in 2006. Since then, his six adult children and Diane Holliday, the mother of his youngest son, aged 13, have been engaged in extensive litigation relating to the division of his estate.
A judge ruled in 2011 that, under the terms of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, Mrs Holliday was entitled to reasonable provision from Mr Guney’s estate and awarded her his shares in the cemetery – valued at £1.2 million – as well as the nearby home they once shared, worth £450,000.
Five of the children asked the Court of Appeal to overturn that decision, arguing that it was ‘plainly wrong’ and over-generous to Mrs Holliday. However, rejecting their challenge, the court ruled that Mrs Holliday had been Mr Guney's dependent for six years before he died and was entitled to sufficient assets from his estate to provide her with an income of £60,000-a-year.
Sir Nicholas Wall, sitting with Lords Justice Lloyd and Sullivan, said that the award to Mrs Holliday was ‘eminently permissible’. She had worked at the cemetery for ‘pin money’, before being ‘frozen out’ and dismissed from the business after Mr Guney’s death. The children's arguments that she had wrongly been treated as if she had been married to their father did not stand up, the judge ruled.
After inheritance tax and other liabilities were taken into account, Mr Guney's net estate in England and Wales was in fact inadequate by a considerable margin to provide for Mrs Holliday's reasonable needs and the very substantial costs of administering the estate would fall on the cemetery business, he added.
In the circumstances, it was right to grant Mrs Holliday her deceased partner’s most valuable asset – his shares in the cemetery – as well as the home where they lived together, outright and free of mortgage, he concluded.