When Dame Zaha Hadid died in March 2016, she left generous financial gifts to her friends, family and even her employees – but her benevolence has been overshadowed by a fierce squabble between the executors.
Dame Zaha was one of Britain’s best known architects with her prestigious portfolio including the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the London Olympics Aquatics Centre. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and she was also awarded the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011, UK’s most prestigious architectural award.
Her Will appointed four executors: architect and now principal at Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain Lord Peter Palumbo; Stained Glass Artist Brian Clarke and Dame Zaha’s niece, Rana Hadid.
The Times reported last week that Mr Schumacher was seeking to remove the other three executors who accused him of attempting to do so in order to gain financially. Mr Schumacher has since stated that this was not his intention and in fact, his commencement of court proceedings to remove the other three executors was to allow independent, professional executors to be appointed.
The Will left Mr Schumacher £500,000 and in addition, five of Dame Zaha’s relatives were left a total of £1.7 million. Dame Zaha stipulated that the remaining assets were to be split between beneficiaries which included employees of her practice Zaha Hadid Architects, her charitable trust of which all four executors became trustees (although Mr Schumacher resigned in June) and any other charity or person that the executors choose.
There had already been disagreement between the executors just eight months after Dame Zaha’s death when Mr Schumacher told the World Architecture Festival that the way to solve London’s housing crisis was to build a city over Hyde Park and scrap the City’s social housing estates. The other executors believed that Dame Zaha would have disagreed with such statements.
Mr Schumacher has now applied to the High Court in London to action the removal of his co-executors, stating: “Regrettably I have been left with no real choice in order to move matters along constructively in accordance with the wishes of the late Zaha Hadid.”
He also stated: “I have no intention to control the estate of the late Zaha Hadid, nor is my move motivated by or in any way connected to the prospect of personal financial gain,” he continued.
The other executors had previously issued a statement to say that they had been appointed personally by Dame Zaha with one being a close family member and the others being very good friends; and that she would be devastated by what Mr Schumacher was doing.
Their lawyer stated that the attempt to remove them was “totally unjustified and misconceived.”
The Charity Commission has also stepped in, stating that it will be engaging with the parties to assess their handling of the matter and to ensure that charitable funds are not at risk.
Disagreements over Wills are becoming more commonplace with the High Court seeing a surge in claims over recent years. As property values soar, so do the value of estates: and a host of factors can lead to parties bringing a challenge. Common reasons cited for the surge in claims include complex family structures and an aging population where the elderly decide their adult children are no longer in need of financial support. Where a dispute arises – for example, because a loved one has omitted to provide for someone in their Will that they might be expected to have included – it is vital to seek advice from a specialist lawyer early on.
There are a number of practical ways to reduce the risk of a dispute arising, including making a Will with a qualified solicitor who will take copious notes as to the Testator’s wishes. Where the Testator intends to exclude someone who would usually be expected to benefit, a solicitor can advise on the various strategies to increase the likelihood that the testator’s wishes will be respected.
To make an appointment call Debbie at Breens Solicitors Southport on 01704 532890.