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Bitter family inheritance dispute compared to Bleak House
A CAFE is at the heart of a bitter family dispute that has been compared by a judge to the endless legal war endured by the characters in Charles Dickens' Bleak House.
Ever since Romana Ross, boss of Romana's Cafe, in Ferryhill, County Durham, passed away five years ago her three middle-aged children have been in dispute over who gets what from her ever-diminishing estate.
High Court Judge John Behrens has now warned Gianni, Lorenzo and Diana that if they fail to reach a compromise lawyers could end up getting every penny.
Lamenting it as a "great pity" the three cannot see eye-to-eye, the High Court judge told the warring siblings: "If they are not careful there is a risk that, like the litigants in Bleak House, the whole estate will be eaten up in costs.”
Mrs Ross and her husband, Antonio, came to Britain from Italy in 1957 and separated in 1978.
By the time she died in July, 2008, her assets included the cafe in Market Street, her home in Kensington Gardens and a flat in Osborne Terrace, all in Ferryhill, along with a plot of land in Italy.
After various liabilities, her estate was valued after she died at almost £300,000.
But after years of costly infighting between her children, it is now said to be worth little more than £100,000- too small a sum to meet all her bequests in full.
Her home, valued at £125,000 on her death, had recently been repossessed and once the mortgage was repaid was only expected to yield a surplus of about £45,000 when sold.
Lorenzo still runs the cafe, where he has worked since 1978 earning a "modest wage", and Diana, who lived with her mother until she was about 30 and inherited her home, ran a hair dressing salon upstairs until last year.
In his decision, which was published this week, Judge Behrens said it was his duty to stick as closely as possible to the wishes Romana expressed in her will.
He gave detailed rulings on how what remains of her estate should be distributed between her children but warned the siblings that the administration of their mother's estate was still "by no means finalised".
He said: "It is, to my mind, a great pity that they were not able to reach an agreement.
“Apart from other factors, it means that substantial costs have been incurred in these proceedings which will further diminish the estate."
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