Probate for Paddington: Michael Bond, CBE (1926-2017)
One year ago, Michael Bond, CBE the creator of the beloved literary character, Paddington Bear, passed away in London, England at age 91. Though I recall seeing snippets of Paddington Bear on the television when I was young, I never actively watched the animated series or read the books. Based on what I've learned about Bond's inspiration for the character in my research for this article, as a young immigrant to Canada in the early 1990's, maybe I should have.
Outside of the Selfridges flagship store on Oxford Street, London.
Bond was born in Newbury, England in 1926. He served in the British military during World War II, and began writing during his military service. He created the Paddington Bear character in the late 1950’s based on his memory of refugee children in London train stations during World War II and inspired by a teddy bear he bought at Selfridge’s as a stocking stuffer for his first wife in 1956.
The name Paddington came from the train station Bond used for his daily commute.
The first Paddington Bear book was published in 1958. Bond would write 25 more before his death and see them translated into 40 languages. The character spawned several animated series and two major motion pictures. Coincidentally, the second movie finished its last day of shooting on the date of Bond’s death. From the media reports, it seems like that Bond and Paddington Bear shared many of the same qualities. Bond has been described as "dignified, charming and lovable" much like his most famous character. Bond was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015.
Bond's estate and legacy
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author's uncontroversial approach to life has resulted in an uncontroversial estate. According to media reports, Bond updated his Will in 2014. Considering he was writing and publishing books until April 2017, it is likely that he had the necessary capacity to execute the Will.
Bond was survived by his second spouse and two children. He divorced from his first wife in 1981, but apparently remained on amicable terms, even sharing custody of the stuffed bear who inspired Paddington. As a testament to Bond's character and the ongoing relationship with his former wife, he named her as a beneficiary of his estate together with his current spouse, two children and grandchildren. Bond apparently left his £6.7 million estate (after tax) in trust for the family, as well as charities chosen by his personal representatives. The Will also left his personal possessions to the personal representatives to be divided among friends and family according to Bond's wishes, though it is unclear what those wishes are.
According to one article, one of Bond's wishes was to prevent sequels of the Paddington movies after his death. He apparently saw a lawyer specializing in estate matters to ensure his intentions were properly documented in the Will.
What would happen in Alberta?
Assuming Bond was of sound mind in 2014 when he updated his Will, based on what I've been able to find out from the news reports, if he was an Alberta resident, his estate would devolve according to his Will. Assuming that he owned his house, the Will would have to be submitted to probate. His personal representatives would also likely face the task of negotiating the licensing agreements for the use of Paddington and Bond's other characters and to manage royalties from the various media, depending on the nature of those contracts and maintaining the trust for its duration.
With respect to the personal possessions, it is unclear what Bond's directions were. Often, these items are of great sentimental value to family members, which increases the chances of a dispute. To minimize those chances, Bond could have specifically outlined in his Will which items would go to whom. However, that could become onerous and make the Will unwieldy. Alternatively, the Will could indicate that Bond would leave a memorandum separate from the Will, which would set out specific wishes for specific property. In Alberta, unless the memorandum was executed with all of the required formalities of a Will, it would not be a legally binding document. However, by choosing the right personal representatives and asking them to consider any such memorandum, Bond could increase his chances that his wishes regarding specific personal effects were honoured through this type of flexible document that could be updated based on changing circumstances.
All in all, it seems like Bond's estate plan was well-thought out, generous and left a fitting legacy.
Thank you for reading, and have a great day.