The Garrulous Jay – Sir Roger Scatcherd’s Will

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Sir Roger Scatcherd was a hopeless alcoholic. He died a painful and untimely death at the hands of his addiction to the bottle, leaving behind him a wife and one son in his early twenties. He was also incredibly wealthy.

*** Spoiler alert: those of you planning to read Anthony Trollope’s novel Dr Thorne may wish to stop reading now. ***

Sir Roger was a man of humble origins who had made his fortune from the nineteenth century railway and construction boom. He had few friends in the world, but one of these was the man with the unenviable task of attending to his medical needs, the eponymous Dr Thorne.

It was he, therefore, that Sir Roger nominated as his sole Executor, whilst also making him responsible for the care of his equally dissolute and generally less likeable son, Louis Philippe.

Sir Roger’s Will stipulated that his estate should be held in Trust for Louis Philippe until he attained twenty-five years of age, with Dr Thorne acting as Trustee in the intervening few years. Were Louis “to die without children before he shall be five-and-twenty years of age, [the estate’s assets] are all to go to Mary’s eldest child”.

It was this second condition that had Dr Thorne breaking into a sweat…

Mary was Sir Roger’s estranged sister who had emigrated to America many years earlier with her husband. Prior to emigrating she had been seduced by Dr Thorne’s brother Henry, who the then Roger Scatcherd had consequently dispatched to his maker with a large stick.

What Sir Roger didn’t know was that before leaving England to make her new life overseas, Mary had entrusted her daughter – also called Mary – to Dr Thorne, who was of course her uncle. It was therefore the affable and humble doctor’s beloved niece who stood to inherit a fortune worth hundreds of millions of pounds in today’s money.

What should Dr Thorne do? Were he to tell Sir Roger, the boozing baronet might change his Will and deprive Mary of her fortune. But if he were to keep Mary’s entitlement a secret this might leave him open to all manner of accusations of deception and malfeasance.

Dr Thorne’s dilemma was further complicated by the fact that the love of Mary’s life, Frank Gresham, was charged with one simple goal in life: to “marry money”, to rescue the family estate from ruin at the hands of his hapless and impecunious father. Were the doctor to keep Mary’s potential inheritance secret, she might therefore also lose out on the two things he wanted for her more than anything: love and happiness.

Needless to say, the story has a happy ending. It also served to remind me of the importance of having an up to date Will. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing worse than having a badly drafted Will, and that’s not having any Will at all!