Legally Speaking


The ‘Castle of Spite’ and a Vengeful Inheritance

The ‘Castle of Spite’ and a Vengeful Inheritance

What would you do if your late husband’s family contested your entitlement to his fortune? Sit down with them and discuss it? Quietly move away to another country, never to be seen again? Or use the money to build a castle that dominates the landscape and blocks your stepson’s views?

You may have chosen to talk it out, but Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland, took the third option upon the death of her husband, George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland.

Who is the Duchess of Sutherland?

The Duchess of Sutherland was more commonly known as ‘Duchess Blair’ because her first marriage was to another rich and powerful gentleman, Captain Arthur Kindersely Blair of the 71st Highland Light Infantry.

Her Wikipedia profile states that she is known for her, quote, ‘scandalous marriage’. But one is not sure which marriage the tag refers to. Her first husband died in a mysterious shooting accident. Although it was officially determined to be above suspicion, there were whispers that it could have been either a murder or suicide.

It must also be noted that she was embroiled in a secret affair with her second husband, the Duke, at the time of her first husband’s death. He was one of the wealthiest men in Britain and owned a staggering 1.4 million acres of land. One could say that he was an attractive prospect.

Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland

A Scandalous Marriage

Unsurprisingly, Duchess Blair caused quite a scandal when she married the Duke only four months after the Duke’s wife also died in mysterious circumstances. That’s quite a few coincidental deaths.

It wouldn’t have been such a scandal if Queen Victoria herself didn’t staunchly disapprove. The quick wedding flew in the face of the required one-year minimum for a widow to mourn before remarrying. Queen Victoria even sent a letter expressing her misgivings, but The Duchess and her Duke ignored them.

At this stage, Duchess Blair had all the money in the world, but in light of the Queen’s disapproval, she did not have much social standing. This can only assume that this left a particularly bad taste in her mouth.  

Another Husband Dies

You may not be surprised to learn that only three years after her marriage to the Duke, he died too. The last one standing, Blair was due to inherit the lot, but the Duke’s son from his first marriage, Cromartie Sutherland-Levenson-Gower, wasn’t having any of it. He initiated a legal battle, but the Duchess was one step ahead. She gathered all of the relevant documents and burned them.

Unfortunately for the Duchess, the Judge found this act to be illegal. He rounded her up and put her in jail for six weeks. Enough time, one would think, for Mary Caroline to learn her lesson.

Enough Money Left for a Castle

You’ve probably already guessed that jail time didn’t suppress the Duchess. Indeed, in the finalised judgment, Mary received enough fortune to build her own castle even though the documents were in cinders.

They only had one stipulation – that the castle not be built on Sutherland family land or be visible to the main road or railway line, lest it ruin their view when travelling.

The Castle of Spite 

The Carbisdale Castle was built between 1905 and 1917, but even though it wasn’t officially on the family land, it sat upon a hillside and dominated the landscape from every angle.

The one side of the clocktower facing Sutherland land was left without a clock in a deliberate snub to her late husband’s family. She did not want to give them the time of day.

With its obnoxious placement and clocktower without a clock, one doesn’t have to guess why it was nicknamed the ‘Castle of Spite’.

Who Owns the Castle Now? 

The colourful Duchess Blair died in 1912. Since then, the castle has seen several incarnations but was most recently run as a youth hostel. The current owner bought the property in 2016 and renovated it.

What of the castle now? Well, it’s up for sale. That’s right; you can own the ‘Castle of Spite’ for 1.2m pounds. Not a bad price for a partially-renovated castle with some of the best views in Scotland.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

# Note: Featured is Aerial photography (drone) of Carbisdale Castle.
Photo attributed to Anthony Round

What Happens to Unclaimed Estates When Someone Dies Without an Heir?

What Happens to Unclaimed Estates When Someone Dies Without an Heir?

Usually, when people die, their loved ones assemble. There is often a ceremony. People make speeches. They console each other. The lost loved one is fondly remembered.

But what if no one comes to the funeral? Worse than that, what if no one even knows that you’ve died?

The New York Times piece, ‘Dying Alone in New York City,’ tells the story of George Bell, a man who died in his apartment alone. The article draws attention to the growing number of people whose deaths go unnoticed. ‘No one collects their bodies. No one mourns the conclusion of a life. They are just a name added to the death tables. In 2014, George Bell, age 72, was among those names.’

The discovery that someone has died alone and unnoticed is sad and confronting, but things become complicated when that person also has an unclaimed estate.

What Happens to Unclaimed Estates?

In a case such as George Pell’s, with no living relatives and an unclaimed estate, one may naturally ask, so what happens next?

Indeed what happens to an unclaimed estate in the U.S.?

When a person dies and has not made a will, their estate passes on to the next in line of succession, usually a family member. But if the person doesn’t have any living relatives, their estate reverts to the state.

Trying to Find Living Relatives

Fortunately, there are excellent legal providers whose sole purpose is to track down the living relatives of unclaimed estates. There is much detailed research and expertise required, but the state must locate the rightful inheritance recipients. Often, probate genealogists take a percentage of the estate for their services, but finding those next in the line of succession is a vital task.

According to the law, when the unclaimed estates are vast, it’s in everyone’s interests to find the rightful owner.

What Happens if An Heir is Missing?

In the U.S., the law varies from state to state. Most states allow for a long line of succession to allow the most opportunities to find a beneficiary. But what if, after all that searching, an heir still can’t be found?

In that case, the estate is forfeited in ‘escheat’. When this occurs, it is, again, different in every state. Some states pronounce escheat early. They do this to avoid a person with no relationship to the benefactor receiving the inheritance. Other states draw out the process to guarantee that the line of succession has adhered.

If, in the end, the heir is still missing, then Escheat is enacted.

Can You Reject a Relative’s Inheritance?

Interestingly, there are also situations where an individual may want to reject their inheritance. There are several reasons for this. In the U.S., an inheritance may jeopardise someone’s access to social services and income. It could affect employment. On some occasions, it can be simply that a person didn’t know the deceased and doesn’t feel right claiming their estate.

If U.S. citizens do disclaim their inheritance, most states move on to the next person in the line of succession. Of course, all of this has to be done through the correct legal channels. A person has to state that they reject the inheritance in writing.

The Moral of the Story 

George Pell was a man who sadly left this Earth alone. None of us would wish our death to go unnoticed. None of us would want to go the way of George Pell. But, if we take the time to write a will, we can at least make sure that the people who loved us most in life are listed as the next in the line of succession.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

Six Reasons You Should Make a Will 

Six Reasons You Should Make a Will 

We all remember the touching funeral scene in ‘Love Actually’. In a moving tribute, Liam Neeson’s character makes the eulogy for his late wife. He tells the assembled mourners that ‘there were requests she was pretty clear about. She’s going to say her final farewell to you, ever so coolly, through the Bay City Rollers.’ The song ‘Bye, Bye Baby’ rings throughout the church, her loved ones smile, and it’s obvious to everyone that his late wife had a sense of humour. It’s also evident that she had wanted to do things her way.

It’s a touching scene that shows what’s possible when someone has clarified their wishes after they die. From deciding what song you want to play at your funeral to who receives your assets, making a will is as important as any other decision about your future.

1. Family Harmony

In the scene from ‘Love Actually,’ Neeson’s character finds solace in granting his wife’s wishes. You can also give your loved one peace of mind by making a will.

If people don’t have to guess what you would have wished, there is less room for tension between relatives who have different assumptions. Think of it as not only a gift to yourself but your family.

2. Avoid Unnecessary Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax is calculated based on your assets and to who you decide to give those assets to. If you leave your assets to people other than family members, this can impact how much Inheritance Tax you pay.

Suppose you fail to make a will and haven’t stated who receives your estate. In that case, the state-appointed executor determines the distribution of assets. You may therefore lose money that could have remained in the family.

3. Give Sentimental Items to Those Who Value Them

Making a will allows you to be specific. Wills aren’t solely about money. You may wish to make personal choices regarding items of sentimental value. This way, you can make your inheritance unique.

As mentioned earlier, this also improves family harmony. No one wants to make unseemly grabs for personal items after a loved one has died. Divide your assets clearly. In that case, family members don’t need to feel grubby about keeping a sentimental item and remembering you in their way.

4. You Can Choose An Executor

Making a will allows you to choose an executor that you trust. This is one of the benefits of planning for the future. The executor may be a surviving family member or a legal professional with the qualifications and sensitivity to do the right thing.

Working with a professional also informs you of any information about the law that will help you make good decisions.

5. Pets Are Family Too

Most people think of their children and partners when drawing up a will, but pets are also family. Writing a will allows you to decide who will care for your pets when you die.

This is just one example of an issue that people who haven’t drawn up a will can easily miss. Making a will help distribute your assets but can help establish how your pets and children are looked after when you’re gone.

6. Improve Your Quality of Life

Like most things not discussed, making your will a taboo topic only increases the anxiety around it. By getting the subject out into the open and making clear decisions for the future, you may improve your quality of life.

At the end of Liam Neeson’s eulogy in ‘Love Actually’, he tells those assembled, ‘Jo and I had a lot of time to prepare for this moment.’ His character’s wife had died of a terminal illness, which allowed them time to plan. Talking about it had brought them even closer together.

Sure, it’s a movie, but there’s some truth. Having conversations about your will and planning for the future can put everyone at ease. Not least, you.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

A probate genealogist is a detective. What are they investigating, you ask? They’re looking for the rightful recipients of the estates of people who have died with no known heirs.

You may think that it should be easy to find the family members of a deceased person. However, family trees are complicated. Although it may seem tempting to tackle the search yourself, the legal process of finding the correct recipients should fall to those who are qualified.

The probate genealogist performs in-depth research on the family tree of the deceased person. Eventually, they’re able to determine and locate the heirs. This kind of detective work is similar to solving a crime. It requires meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of the relevant legalities. The hunt for an heir is an exciting occupation.

Will vs Probate

Probate Genealogy is a legal field. As such, there are several legal terms used that need clarification. Let’s clear things up.

You’ve probably heard of the terms probate and will when discussing inheritance, but although often used in the same sentence, they are two different concepts.

What is the difference between a will and probate? A will is a legal document written up by a person determining who their estate goes to. Probate refers to all of the paperwork and processes associated with the administration of the estate.

Two other valuable terms are testate and intestate. Not common vocabulary, the meanings are simple enough. Testate refers to the execution of an existing will. Intestate refers to the execution of an estate with no existing will.

A Day in the Life of an Heir Hunter

With sites like, the field of family tree research is an increasingly popular hobby. Many people spend hours exploring their ancestry, often finding fascinating details about their family and long-distant relatives they didn’t know they had. Comparatively, the field of probate genealogy isn’t something anyone can do.

A probate genealogist’s job is complicated and intricate. Colloquially referred to as ‘heir hunters’, the role involves extensive research. It is specialist work and often requires access to records only open to those with the legal right to search them.

The probate genealogist’s work is also international. Families move and settle in new countries. People forget to update their addresses and contact details. Passports expire. Government databases become invalid.

You may assume that people would be easy to track down with the prevalence of social media. However, often this isn’t the case. This is where the probate genealogist and their research expertise become invaluable. A professional knows where to look when the evidence is sparse.

Research of this nature takes years to perfect. It requires knowledge of how to locate historical records, interpret them, and then bring together the case to locate an individual who doesn’t know someone is looking for them.

The Ethics of Heir Hunting 

Although probate specialists are experts in their field, there’s been a spate of amateurs who have offered their services to unsuspecting people. Occasionally they are fraudulent and charge unreasonable fees. At other times, they are well-intentioned but ill-qualified. Either way, when tracking down the rightful heirs of an estate, one must secure the services of a professional.

Not sure who to hire? This is the time to do some research of your own. Check that the genealogist is qualified and belongs to the relevant professional bodies. Make sure that you feel comfortable that this person genuinely knows what they’re doing and are likely to reunite estates with their rightful owners.

The Rewards of Heir Hunting 

The life of an heir hunter is not just exciting but rewarding. Not only do probate genealogists spend their days investigating family history all over the world, but they have the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing. It’s not just about vast estates and inheritances worth a fortune. Helping to locate family members who have the right to unclaimed estates is a high reward.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

When Celebrities Die Without a Will

When Celebrities Die Without a Will

Wondering who inherits the vast estates of the rich and famous when they die without a will?

In the U.S., individuals who die without a will lose control over their assets by default. It’s a lost opportunity to assign appropriate beneficiaries and minimise the burden of inheritance tax. Often this results in disputes between those left behind. But how much more complicated does the battle for inheritance become if the individual was famous?

When most people die without a will, inheritance is of interest to a small group. But when celebrities die without a will, the public interest can attract attention far and wide.

You may have heard of the squabble over Tupac’s estate; a 40 million dollar dispute fought between family members after his untimely and unforeseeable murder at twenty-five. Fame certainly contributed to his wealth, but it also led to a money grab after his death.

Similarly, Prince, one of the most recognisable musicians of the modern era, died of an accidental drug overdose at 57 without a will. It took six years and considerable legal wrangling, all played out in the public arena, to sort out his 156 million dollar estate.

Law gravel and bag of money

Complicated Estates

The rich and famous often have complicated estates. They may range from tangible assets (think private jets and pet monkeys) to considerably more abstract wealth such as intellectual property (think royalties and song rights): the more complex the estate, the more expensive the process to determine its value. Often, considerable money is lost in the wash.

Dying without a will nullifies your opportunity to appoint an executor who assesses and values your estate before distributing it. As Prince passed up his right to choose, an executor was agreed upon by a majority of the potential beneficiaries, not an ideal scenario and one that attracted the scrutiny of the IRS, who claimed Prince’s estate was worth considerably more than previously disclosed.

Dying Without a Will

What happens to a wealthy person’s money when they die has been the fodder of gossip columns long before the prevalence of celebrity culture and the twenty-four-hour news cycle that feeds it.

Perhaps the most famous lawyer in the republic’s history, Abraham Lincoln, surprisingly died without a will. Luckily his estate was executed by a close family friend who just happened to be the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, David Davis. Still, we will never know if Lincoln intended his estate to go to his wife or split between her and his children.

Without a will when he died in 1973, Pablo Picasso left behind one wife, one ex-wife, a slew of mistresses and four children from three different women – another example of a public figure who could have benefited from getting his affairs in order. Leaving an estate many consider priceless, his heirs engaged in a lengthy court battle to state their claim. Now the riches have been carved up; they’ve progressed to arguing over the use of their father’s name, a commodity Picasso’s son, Claude, has recently seen fit to sell to Citroën.

Understanding Intestacy Laws

In the U.S., Intestacy Law, also known as Law of Descent and Distribution, determines the relevant beneficiaries of those estates without a formal declaration. Or, to put it simply – who gets what if the paperwork is missing. It’s fair to say that most of us wouldn’t want our beneficiaries determined by the state, but the system is in place to deal with the vacuum created when someone fails to declare their wishes. You may assume that the estate would go to a surviving partner or children, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

For all its spectacle, when a celebrity dies without a will, it can bring much-needed attention to the importance of estate planning. You may not be as legendary as Tupac, wealthier than Prince or more universally recognised than Abraham Lincoln, but you can certainly be more prepared.

Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).