Family divided over father’s £10m legacy
THE APPEAL Court has ruled that the son of a prominent Orthodox businessman is entitled to half of a disputed legacy estimated to be worth over £10 million, despite a legal challenge from some of his sisters.
The judgment follows years of argument thrashed out in both rabbinic and secular courts.
Izak Kohn, a former chairman of Kedassia, London’s strictly Orthodox kashrut authority, and honorary life president of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, died intestate in August 2001.
After his death, his four daughters discovered that he had transferred shares he owned in their favour.
But his son Chaim, who now lives mainly in Israel, maintained that his father had not intended to hand them the shares but had done so to save inheritance tax.
He claimed that his father, who ran a photo-album company, wished him to have 50 per cent of the shares, with the remaining half distributed among the daughters.
His claims, however, were contested by three of his sisters, who brought the dispute to the London Beth Din.
In December 2002, the Beth Din rejected their case, although it concluded: “The deceased did not intend at any time for the share transfers actually to effect the transfer of the shares for the benefit of [the sisters] and the purpose of the share transfers was to avoid tax.”
Whenthesistersfailedtocomplywith the terms of a subsequent award made by the Beth Din, the rabbinical judges gave leave to Chaim Kohn to seek its enforcement through the High Court.
But when the court backed the Beth Din’s ruling, two of the sisters, Dinah Berger and Sheva Wagschal, launched a further appeal.
The Appeal Court, which sat in July, has now confirmed the validity of the Beth Din’s decision.
In his judgment, Lord Justice Waller said: “What the Beth Din have decided is that, as a matter of Jewish law, there was no evidence of a gift to the sisters.
“It seems to me that there is no public policy which requires this court not to enforce that award.”
But the question of possible tax evasion had troubled the court.
“Should the person relying on the illegality be entitled to have a windfall or is the situation such that the court can both prevent that windfall without seeming to condone illegal conduct?” he asked.
As a result, he ordered that “all the relevant documents” should be passed to the Inland Revenue.
“The right course,” he concluded, “is to place the relevant documents before the Revenue, so that they can ascertain for themselves whether any deception is being perpetrated on them, or whether they have had a full and frank disclosure as to the question whether these shares formed part of the estate of the deceased at his death.”