In the context of a highly unusual dispute between four siblings over their deceased father’s unique collection of Chinese porcelain – valued at £8 million – the High Court has ruled that the only solution is to divide 500 pieces between them, with each taking it in turns to pick items that they desire.
During a lifetime of international travel, the diplomat had built up a collection of pots, dating from the transitional period between the Ming and Qing dynasties, which was recognised as the finest of its type in the world. In part for tax reasons, he had given 500 pieces to his children some years before his death, aged 86. However, they had continued to be displayed in a private museum at the family home.
Following his death, his two older children wished to take possession of their shares of the collection. However, their younger siblings argued that the collection would be more valuable, both in financial terms and to scholars, if kept intact. They pointed out that, in a letter of wishes attached to his will, their father had expressed the hope that the collection would be kept together for a decade after his death.
In ruling in the older siblings’ favour, the Court rejected arguments that they were motivated by money rather than a legitimate desire to enjoy their inheritance and possession of the pots for largely sentimental reasons. Although their deceased father’s wishes might carry some moral weight, they had no legal significance.
By operation of Section 188 of the Law of Property Act 1925 the older siblings were entitled to insist on an equal division of the collection. Each of the four children was entitled to 125 pots and the Court ruled that they should each select items from the collection in the order in which they were named in their father’s gift.