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Archie Mitchell's Will - What's it All About?

Everyone knows I’m a bit of a TV addict, but I try not to get sucked into the soaps – far easier said than done!

They are always full of drama, twists and trauma – EastEnders probably has the edge on pure misery, but it can still make entertaining viewing.

The long drawn out saga surrounding Archie Mitchell continues to drag on – finally he’s dead and despite the hunt for the murderer (or was it even murder?), there is a bit more mileage from the story line yet, as last night saw the reading of Archie's Will, and the question on everyone's lips had to be - who will get The Vic?  Needless to say the doof doofs kicked in right at the point when we would learn who’d receive the residue of his estate - stocks and shares - £3m (how much!??) and the precious Queen Vic!

But wait – didn’t we hear a few episodes ago that Glenda (Ronnie & Roxy’s mum) may not technically be divorced from Archie?  Glenda apparently deserted Archie (due to his unreasonable behaviour), but assuming divorce proceedings were not commenced until 2 years after the desertion, and there is evidence that divorce papers were served on Glenda (if necessary by way of an Enquiry Agent), then the divorce will be deemed legal.

So what else?  Janine, Peggy, Ronnie, Roxy, Billy – not to mention Roxy’s baby Amy who has just inherited £100k – will they feel they receive what they were entitled to?  Can they do anything about it if they don’t? 

Over to my legal expert Edward Rees, who says:

“I am not a regular viewer of this popular tale of family strife so missed last night’s episode.  I will now have to watch on the iPlayer as I understand that Billy Mitchell (a character I do recall from my days as a follower of the series), carried out the Will reading.  In 10 years of practice, I have never once actually attended a formal Will reading and definitely not one carried out by the likes of Billy in a pub!

In the meantime, the circumstances read like the most complicated legal exam question you could ever be set!

Firstly, it seems that Archie, as well as being a bit of a villain, is also a High Net Worth individual.  If his estate is worth £3m this means that Inheritance Tax (IHT) is going to be an issue.  The first £325k will pass free of IHT.  There may be reliefs and exemptions that might apply to all or part of the rest of the estate.

Archie was clearly a man of business (whether of the shady variety or not).  Therefore there may be some Business Property relief to mitigate IHT on business assets.

If there is a £100k legacy trust for baby Amy, that will use up at least around 1/3 of Archie’s IHT nil rate band.  The easiest way for IHT to be extinguished on the balance of the estate would be for Archie to pass the residue (including the stocks, shares and the Queen Vic) to Peggy.  It would then qualify for the IHT spouse exemption.  The unused part of the nil rate band might then also be used as “transferable nil rate band” on Peggy’s own death.  However, as I write, I can’t quite recall how many times Peggy has been widowed already.  So this option might not be available!

Of course, if Archie was (on top of his other sins) a bigamist and not actually married to Peggy, there would be no spouse exemption available for any gift to Peggy.  But perhaps he has left it all to Glenda?

Whoever Archie was married to, he could have used the spouse exemption but not actually left assets outright to his wife.  In other words he could have left assets into a revocable life interest trust for the benefit of his surviving spouse.  The IHT spouse exemption would be preserved but, after a decent period, the trustees of the trust (who would have complete control over the capital in the trust) could appoint the capital out to other beneficiaries.  It might appear somewhat caddish to some but I hope he’s done something stylish along these lines.  However, given that he appears to be married to two ladies, he may not have got the best legal advice either when he got his divorce or did his Will!

In any sorry tale such as this, there are bound to be disappointed beneficiaries and this is EastEnders so expect some sort of challenge to the Will or claim against the estate.

Here are some possibilities:

Glenda: under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act 1975 she’ll have a right to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision if she is not provided for and is still married to Archie.

Ditto for Peggy if still married.  If not, possibly she might scrape through as a co-habitee.  However, I’m not sure whether they were estranged and, if so, for how long.

Ronnie and Roxy appear to be Archie’s children.  So again, if they are not provide for they may bring a claim under the same Act.

Maybe Archie prepared and executed the Will himself?  If so, has it been properly executed?  Given the evidence of his matrimonial status, this is a possibility.  If so, the Will could be challenged.  Perhaps the Will is invalid.  Therefore a lot (but not all – because surviving spouse would not inherit all of a £3m estate) would turn on whether he was married to Peggy or Glenda.

Any of these challengers could do worse that speak to my colleague, Claire Vale, a specialist in such contentious probate matters.

Finally, I note that there may have been a murder.  If any beneficiary of the Will murdered Archie, they will be disqualified from inheriting.  That would definitely happen in Agatha Christie.  I don’t know what the ‘Enders’ form is on this score.”

Well, there's some food for thought!  Thank you Edward – no doubt we will have to do an update after this evening’s episode.