Friday 31 October 2014

Betrayal, greed, deception – where there's a will... there's a good chance all hell will break loose

Published 25/11/2012 | 06:00

Wills and disputes over wills fascinate the public. We have an almost prurient interest in how much wealth a person has accumulated throughout their life and how they dispose of it.

We are equally fascinated by the multi-millionaire who dispenses largesse far and wide and the seemingly penniless neighbour who manages to squirrel away hundreds of thousands unbeknownst to family and friends.

Wills and disputes over them frequently feature in the plots of books and movies and indeed many a soap opera has been livened up by the portrayal of a family battling over a will. However, in many cases the fiction does not live up to reality.

Liam Collins' new book Battle of Wills – Irish Families at War over Wills – is a fascinating insight into many of the high- profile disputes over wills that have been played out in the Irish courts.

The book takes us from the tale of Boss Croker – the famous Tammany Hall Boss who at the age of 74, and in the face of his family's horror, married a woman 50 years his junior who claimed to be an American Indian princess – to the tragic death of Celine Cawley and the subsequent attempts by the husband convicted of her killing to gain control of her assets.

Of interest to historians will be the chapter on Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O'Shea which looks at the real reasons why Parnell and O'Shea kept their long-standing affair under wraps.

It had less to do with any noble motives of Parnell than the desire of Kitty O'Shea to get her hands on the estate of her extremely wealthy elderly aunt who was under the illusion that she was still very happily married to her estranged husband Captain O'Shea.

One of the oft-forgotten consequences of lengthy disputes over an estate is alluded to in the tale of the Blackhall sisters and their battle to continue to live in "genteel poverty" in their family mansion – Marino Park in Blackrock. It is a classic tale of how in many disputes over wills there are very few winners.

In that particular case, by the time the litigation concluded many of the heirs had died and much of the money in the estate was eaten up by legal fees.

The book is a wonderful chronicle of generosity, greed, humour, betrayal, love and deception.

Paula Mullooly

Paula Mullooly is a solicitor with Simon McAleese Solicitors.

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