Fam­ily di­vided over fa­ther’s £10m legacy

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

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.”

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