With the recent release of ‘Mr Turner’ in cinemas, a film in which Timothy Spall depicts the last 25 years of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s life, I find myself questioning his legacy. By this, I am not talking about his role as one of Britain’s best known artists or founder of impressionism. I’m talking about his actual legacy. The one contained within his Will.
He left part of his fortune to support ‘decayed artists’ (whatever they may be) and bequeathed his art collection to the British Nation to be kept and shown together, ‘constantly’.
What happened to this legacy?
His cousins contested it, feeling that they should benefit from his fortune and, following a Court case, they did. Likewise, Turner’s art collection is no longer kept together, although it took an Act of Parliament to override that wish.
So what was the point of Turner making a Will if both his family and the state were going to ride roughshod over his wishes?
Turner had no wife, only a mistress. His children from a previous relationship were estranged. If Turner had died today without a Will, his entire fortune, including his artworks, would have passed to his cousins. Most likely, they would have sold off the majority of his paintings to private collections ignoring Turner’s wish of granting them to British institutions such as the National Gallery and the Tate for the enjoyment of all who care to visit.
A Will won’t stop a legitimate claim being made against your estate if the Court deems it appropriate, but having no Will leaves you open to the wrong people inheriting your assets and the right people potentially receiving nothing.
Turner’s mistress received nothing from his estate. The same outcome would still arise today if he had not made a Will. The Rules of Intestacy make no provision for unmarried partners.
Turner’s artistic legacy as the father of modern art is undisputed, even though his Will was. However, at least he had a Will and it’s thanks to this that we are able to enjoy his artworks to the extent we do.
If you have specific wishes regarding your estate or you have a complex family arrangement, don’t rely on the Rules of Intestacy. Make a Will.
Susannah Bower is a Senior Solicitor within the Private Client team at WBW Solicitors and specialises in preparing complex Wills and trusts and advising high net worth individuals on tax mitigation and succession planning. Susannah can be contacted on (01392) 202404 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org. For further details visit wbw.co.uk