John McHugh had substantial proprietary interests housed in the family trust, which is registered with the Master of the High Court at Cape Town. Picture: Alaur Rahman/Pexels
John McHugh had substantial proprietary interests housed in the family trust, which is registered with the Master of the High Court at Cape Town. Picture: Alaur Rahman/Pexels

One family's global battle over millions in inheritance, involving long-lost son, happening in Cape Town

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Oct 21, 2021

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Cape Town - A chapter in a family saga worthy of a novel or a soap opera, involving a long-lost son, his half siblings, a disagreement over an inheritance and an estate worth millions of rand, has played out in the Western Cape High Court.

Judge Ashley Binns-Ward ruled that Paul Wright would not have to stand security for the costs of the case he brought against Donald McHugh, Rita Kelly and Arnold Scholtz, who are joint trustees of the McHugh Family Trust.

“I have decided that in the peculiar circumstances of the case the scales tip against ordering Wright to provide security for the applicants’ costs. The application will therefore be refused,” said Judge Binns-Ward.

Court papers said that Wright was born out of an extramarital relationship between John McHugh and Frances McHugh, both since deceased. He was given up for adoption at the time of his birth and brought up in England by his adoptive parents.

John McHugh had four other children born of his marriage with Mary Philomena McHugh, including Donald and Rita. They live in Northern Ireland.

The late John McHugh divorced his wife at the time of Wright’s birth and then lived in a common law marriage relationship with Frances McHugh until she died in September 2014.

John McHugh’s four children born of his civil law marriage were all initially hostile to Frances, but, with the exception of Rita, they eventually came to accept her.

Wright’s biological parents established contact with him during 2007, when he was in his mid-twenties. Familial relations were built up, and Wright started visiting his biological parents at their home in Northern Ireland.

On occasion he also accompanied them on holiday to South Africa, where John McHugh had substantial proprietary interests housed in the family trust, which is registered with the Master of the High Court at Cape Town.

Wright has also enjoyed the use of a holiday house in Hermanus for his own family holidays. It is apparent from the papers that the house was owned by the late John McHugh in a company.

In his founding affidavit Wright testified that John McHugh had informed him during a conversation in September 2015, during the anniversary commemoration of his natural mother’s death, that he had provided for him in his will.

Wright said he was told that he would share equally with his half-siblings in John McHugh’s South African assets as a co-beneficiary of a testamentary trust.

He said that John McHugh had warned him that his half-sister Rita Kelly would probably be ‘very unhappy’ when she discovered that he had been made a beneficiary.

Wright said John McHugh explained the scheme of his South African will to him and cautioned that Rita Kelly might prevail on her siblings to assist her in excluding him from his inheritance.

He advised Wright that he should not succumb to any pressure to resign as trustee of the testamentary trust ‘as it would then be extremely difficult for [Wright] to prevent [his half-siblings] from disinheriting [him]’.

Wright said that John McHugh had advised him that if he was pressured to ‘exit the trust’ he ‘should not do so for less than £1 million’.

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