Widow of Olympic fencer and Bond double wins £800k inheritance battle
Widow of Olympic fencer who was James Bond’s body double and taught Orlando Bloom to sword fight wins £800,000 High Court inheritance battle with her stepson after she was left just £1,000 in her husband’s will
- Karen Paul, 49, staked claim to husband’s estate after being left almost nothing
- She gave up job to care for him when he was struck with motor neurone disease
- Judge ruled it was ‘surprising’ she had been cut out given their ‘happy marriage’
- Late Steven Paul’s son James had been only child to challenge Mrs Paul’s claim
The widow of an Olympic fencer who body doubled as James Bond and trained Orlando Bloom for Pirates of the Caribbean has won an £800,000 inheritance battle against her stepson.
Karen Paul, 49, took her claim to the High Court in central London after she was horrified to discover her late husband Steven Paul had practically left her out of his will – despite the fact that she gave up her corporate career to care for him when he was struck down by motor neurone disease in 2018.
Mr Paul, who died aged 64 in 2019 following a fall while on holiday in Spain, had only left his wife of 23 years around £1,000 worth of household items.
The Hollywood swordsman, who doubled for Pierce Brosnan in a fencing scene in Die Another Day, had left everything else between the two sons of his first marriage and the two daughters he had with Mrs Paul, including the £700,000 home in which she still lives in East Sussex.
Following a legal battle, Mrs Paul is now in line for a half share of the house when it is sold in three years’ time, with her four children and step-children sharing the rest.
Only one of Mr Paul’s children, James Paul, from his first marriage, had objected to Mrs Paul’s claim, complaining that he had been left strapped for cash following the Covid pandemic and had been living in his car – arguing he could not wait three years for the property to be sold.
But his argument was rejected by the court, which said it was ‘surprising’ that Mr Paul’s will cut out his wife, since they had enjoyed a ‘happy marriage’ until he died.
Karen Paul (pictured), 49, took her claim to the High Court in central London after she was horrified to discover her late husband Steven Paul had left her out his will – despite the fact that she gave up her corporate career to care for him when he was struck down by motor neurone disease in 2018
Steven Paul (pictured), who died aged 64 in 2019 following a fall while on holiday in Spain, had only left his wife of 23 years around £1,000 worth of household items
Only one of Mr Paul’s children, James Paul (pictured), from his first marriage, had objected to Mrs Paul’s claim, complaining that he had been left strapped for cash following the Covid pandemic and had been living in his car – arguing he could not wait three years for the property to be sold
The Hollywood swordsman, who doubled for Pierce Brosnan in a fencing scene in Die Another Day (pictured), had left everything else between the two sons of his first marriage and the two daughters he had with Mrs Paul, including the £700,000 home in which she still lives in East Sussex
Mr Justice Moor said that, in leaving her only furniture and other household contents worth about £1,000, he was ‘absolutely clear that the will failed to make reasonable financial provision’ for Mrs Paul.
The court heard Mr Paul came from a renowned dynasty of elite fencers, with his grandfather Leon Paul a legendary instructor and his father, Raymond, working as Errol Flynn’s stunt double during epic swordplay sequences. His mother June Paul was also a silver-winning Olympic sprinter.
He specialised in using the epee, was three times British champion and took part in three Olympic Games, before switching to coaching and setting up his own club in Tunbridge Wells.
He worked on Die Another Day in 2002 and coached Orlando Bloom for his spectacular sword battles with Johnny Depp in the ‘Pirates’ movies.
Mr Paul had two sons, James Paul, 35, and Sebastian Paul, 32, while married to his first wife, Marisa Fitzgerald, in Australia.
But the marriage broke down and in 1998 he married Karen, with whom he had his daughters, Yasmin, 23, and a younger sister, who cannot be identified.
They initially lived in Belsize Park, north London, but were living in a £700,000 four-bedroom detached house in Forest Row, near East Grinstead, when he died.
Mr Paul had earlier been diagnosed with motor neurone disease and his wife gave up her work as a corporate trainer to care for him as he declined.
He died, aged 64, in April 2019 after falling while on holiday in Spain.
James (pictured) gave evidence ‘that he considered the property was owned as per the legal title – namely solely by his father’s estate,’ the judge said, although noting that he had ‘no evidence’ to support the claim
Following the revelation that she had been left out of her husband’s will, Mrs Paul made a claim against his estate for ‘reasonable provision.’
She claimed that, although it was in his sole name, their final home had always been considered shared by the couple.
And yet, all that she had been left was his share of its contents, which were worth about £1,000.
Of the children, only James, who now lives in Australia, questioned Mrs Paul’s entitlement to a half share of the house, said the judge.
James gave evidence ‘that he considered the property was owned as per the legal title – namely solely by his father’s estate,’ the judge said, although noting that he had ‘no evidence’ to support the claim.
Giving evidence, James also told the court he had been badly strapped for cash in the wake of the Covid pandemic, having lost his job as a personal trainer, and has recently been living in his car.
Despite his step-mother’s opposition, he was keen to sell his father’s old home now – rather than waiting – as he is in ‘dire need’ of cash.
But ruling in Mrs Paul’s favour, the judge said he was convinced that there had been an agreement that Mr Paul was holding the house on trust for both of the couple in order to make it easier to get a mortgage.
And he said she has ‘an irreducible right to half the estate,’ given that their marriage had been an equal one.
Mr Paul acting as a body double for Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film Die Another Day
The will was a ‘surprising document in that I am satisfied that the marriage remained entirely happy but the only provision for Mrs Paul in the will was that she was left the content of the property,’ he said.
He continued: ‘I am clear that the will did not make reasonable financial provision for the claimant.
‘I have had difficulty in understanding why the deceased made no provision for her other than leaving her his share of the contents of the property.
‘I accept the claimant’s evidence that he told her that she would receive half the estate and the children would get the other half.
‘I can only assume that he believed that half of Freshfield Bank was hers and that the life policy would pay off her half of the mortgage.’
He accepted that James might want his inheritance now, but said he could not have been expecting it, since his dad had died unexpectedly while young.
He said the approximately £80,000 which each child would receive when the house is eventually sold was a ‘considerable sum’ and that they can wait three years until Mrs Paul is in a better position to sell and move.
‘I am clear that, if they receive a reasonable inheritance in three years’ time, their father’s wishes will have been respected and they cannot, in the circumstances, expect to receive it any earlier,’ he said.
As well as the house, Mr Paul also left around £100,000 in cash, which has been entirely swallowed by lawyers’ bills.
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