The three adopted children of Norfolk turkey tycoon Bernard Matthews have overturned his dying wish to leave a £12m French villa to the woman who consoled him in his final years.

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Mr Matthews died at the age of 80 in 2010, leaving behind a £40m estate founded on the success of his Great Witchingham-based poultry empire.

One of his three wills expressed a desire to leave the luxury Mediterranean property at Villa Bolinha, in Ramatuelle, near Saint-Tropez, to his long-term partner Odile Marteyn.

But it has emerged in a High Court case that his adopted children, Kathleen, Jason and Victoria, were not content to abide by their father’s wish and insisted on their own legal right to a stake in the property.

Judge Nicholas Strauss QC said Mr Matthews knew his children were entitled to 75pc of Villa Bolinha under French inheritance laws, regardless of his will, so he wrote a letter to his family four years before his death pleading with them to give up their rights.

Mr Matthews’ letter says: “Odile has supported me unfailingly for many years and particularly so during my recent illnesses. Without such support, I might not have been able to continue directing our family company for our mutual benefit.

“In reaching my decision I have taken into account the fact that each of you is very well housed with at least one property each and that, directly or indirectly, I have provided financially for each of you over a very long period of years.

“I wish the French villa to continue to be occupied and enjoyed and consider Odile would be the best person to take on this responsibility.”

Although Mr Matthews had remained married to his wife Joyce, the mother of his adopted children, the couple had lived apart for 35 years.

Mrs Matthews had helped build the family business and had a 32pc share of Bernard Matthews Holdings when her husband died.

Having been left nothing by their father, Kathleen, Jason and Victoria argued that they had “no choice” but to exercise their rights to a 56.25pc share in the villa.

The successful challenge leaves Odile with just 43.75pc of the property, but Judge Strauss said: “She accepts that there is nothing she can do about this”.

The judge said Mr Matthews wanted to leave Villa Bolinha as well as all his “movable property” in France to Odile in his two French wills. She was also left £1m under his English will, with the majority of the businessman’s fortune going to his son Frederick Elgershuizen, fathered with Dutch aristocrat Cornelia Elgershuizen after the breakdown of his marriage.

At the High Court hearing, the adopted children also argued that the £2m inheritance tax they are liable to pay on their share of the villa should be paid out of their father’s English estate.

However, rejecting their arguments, Judge Strauss said Mr Matthews had clearly wished Odile to inherit the entire villa and to have her French inheritance tax bill paid from his estate.

He concluded: “For this reason, I hold that the adopted children have no right under the English will to have their tax liability discharged, or to be reimbursed if they have paid it.”

8 comments

  • Greed indeed! How any child could appeal against a father's express wishes when supported by a logical and reasonable explanation such as this is beyond me.

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    AE

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

  • Dreadful news, such greed, odd how it can manifest itself among those who have so much. A (single and childless) friend of mine died lately and left his £12,000 estate to a club he was a lifelong member of. His family were pleased over that, though doubtless it would have made more difference to their lives than another few million to this greedy bunch.

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    SussexYellow

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • you have I want culture, sad you cant agree with you dead step father's wishes.

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    trev

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

  • No choice but to contest it? How about the choice of respecting the wishes of a dying man, and being satisfied with the good life you had already been given?

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    julygirl

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

  • We are repeatedly told to ensure we make a will and look what happens when you do. Bernard Matthews could afford the best solicitors and still it was overturned so what chance do the rest of us have?

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    samphirelover

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

  • Sheer greed and ingratitude.

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    micklynn

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • No choice but to contest it? How about the choice of respecting the wishes of a dying man, and being satisfied with the good life you had already been given?

    Report this comment

    julygirl

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

  • Greed rules eh? Maybe his adopted kids should work hard themselves to achieve what he achieved in life.

    Report this comment

    wes1975

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

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