A judge recalled an observation about unhappy families by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy after hearing how a sister and brother ran up lawyers’ bills of more than £120,000 during a High Court argument related to their late father’s £350,000 estate.
The judge, Master Julia Clark, said the amounts run up by Sharon Hudman and Alan Morris, following the death of their father, Barry Morris, were “on any basis disproportionate”.
Master Clark said the case was another example of Tolstoy’s observation that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
The judge, who is based in London, had considered the dispute at a High Court hearing in May.
Her written ruling was published online on Wednesday.
Master Clark said Barry Morris had died in 2019, when in his 90s, and divided his estate between his five children: Alan Morris; Sharon Hudman; Roger Morris; Kim Morris, who is now dead; and Karl Morris.
She said Alan and Sharon were the executors of the will.
Sharon had taken legal action against Alan and wanted him removed as an executor.
Roger and Karl supported Sharon’s claim.
Alan wanted Sharon removed.
Master Clark concluded that both Alan and Sharon should be removed.
The judge said the net value of the estate was about £350,000.
Sharon had run up legal bills of more than £87,000 and Alan more than £36,000, she said.
“This case is regrettably yet another example of Tolstoy’s observation that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” said the judge.
“This family’s dysfunctionality has resulted in legal costs that are on any basis disproportionate to the size of the estate and the nature of the disputes.”
Master Clark said aspects of Alan’s conduct, including his “intense and ill-founded hostility towards his siblings”, threatened the “effective administration of the estate” and justified his removal.
She said there had been a “wholesale breakdown of relations” between Alan and his siblings which justified the appointment of an independent administrator.
Sharon had sought the appointment of an independent administrator, the judge said.
She did not accept that there were any grounds for her removal but was willing to step down if Alan was removed.
Alan resisted his removal.
He had sought Sharon’s removal, and wanted an independent administrator to be appointed to act with him.
Master Clark did not say, in her ruling, where family members lived or gave any indication of their ages.