Eastenders' Lucy Beale: did the murder victim have a will?
Forget 'who killed Lucy Beale?' - the question legal eagles really think we should be asking is 'did she have a will?'
As the Eastenders scriptwriters inch ever closer to revealing 'whodunnit', solicitor Alexandra Gordon at Kent law firm Furley Page thinks the facts surrounding the young soap character's complicated estate are just as juicy a saga.
For the purposes of bringing non-Eastenders fans up to speed, Gordon points out that Lucy had a 'torrid' young life.
"She lost her mother at a young age, and had to contend with numerous stepmothers before being forced to run Ian Beale's [her father's] business empire when he suffered a mental breakdown. Then when things were looking up for Lucy she was murdered," she explains.
"But what happens now? I'm sure the writers of EastEnders are unlikely to find the succession of Lucy's estate worthy of a storyline and so we may never know whether she was smart enough to put a will in place. But what would happen if she didn't?"
Gordon says that, without a will, Lucy's estate would be dealt with in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.
"We'd like to think that her twin brother, Peter, to whom she was close, would benefit but unfortunately that is not the case. With no spouse or children of her own (only due to an abortion) her estate will pass to her father Ian.
"Yes, this is the same Ian that Lucy didn't trust with his own businesses due to his nervous breakdown and the same Ian who stole from her and tricked her into signing the businesses back over to him. Unlikely that this is the result that she would have wanted, especially after their row before her murder."
Her affairs are also likely to be tricky for her beneficiaries to deal with from an inheritance tax point of view as "Lucy will be passing assets up a generation to Ian, who is probably trying to reduce his estate for tax purposes, considering his many businesses," says Gordon.
A further complication comes in to play too. Lucy and Lauren Branning ran a successful business, LB Lettings. So what happens to that?
"Without a will in place Lucy has no executor and therefore someone will have to apply to the court to be her administrator. The problem with this is that an administrator takes their authority from the 'grant of letters of administration', which is the document handed down by the court after a process that can take up to four months," Gordon explains.
"So during that time no one has authority to sign company papers for LB Lettings on Lucy's behalf. If Lucy had a will appointing an executor then they would take their authority from the will and, therefore, be entitled to deal with her assets immediately on death and allow Lauren to continue to run the business."
Gordon concludes: "The moral of the story is that you are never too young to organise your affairs. A will is inexpensive to put in place, will give effect to your wishes and ensure your loved ones are not left sorting out a mess. It may also save you tax.
The tax levied on the total value of your estate after you die. IHT has to be paid by the beneficiaries of your estate before they can receive any of the money from it. The money can’t be taken from the value of the estate _– it has to be paid before any money can be released. There is an IHT threshold – known as the “nil-rate band” – below which no tax is levied (£325,000 in 2011/12). Any amount above the nil-rate band is subject to tax at 40%. If your estate totals £600,000, there is no tax on the first £325,000; however your estate will pay 40% tax on the remaining £275,000, a total of £110,000. Prudent tax planning can reduce your IHT liability, so always consult a specialist solicitor.
Everything you own: all your assets (property, cars, investments, savings, insurance payouts, artwork, furniture etc) minus any liabilities (debts, current bills, payments still owed on assets like cars and houses, credit card balances and other outstanding loans). When you’re alive this is called your wealth; when you’re dead, it becomes your estate.