Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster has died of a heart attack aged 64, at the Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire last week. He was the third richest Briton – worth an estimated £9 billion.
His estate included 100 acres of Mayfair and 200 acres of Belgravia.
His son, Hugh Grosvenor, who is Prince George’s godfather will inherit the entire estate at the age of 25, as the only son despite not being the eldest. The Grosvenor Family Trusts still favour primogeniture. However, unlike the Royal Family which changed the succession to the throne under an Act of Parliament, the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, there may be little the Grosvenor’s can do about it.
I do not know the Grosvenor family, but I have worked with another family which owned large swathes of London. I have therefore witnessed first-hand some of the pressures these families are under due entirely to the fact that they are the beneficiaries of a substantial estate trust fund and they cannot live their lives as they chose.
Whether Hugh Richard Louis likes it or not he is now the 7th Duke of Westminster with all the responsibilities, pleasures and burdens that this brings with it. He is now heir to a vast fortune, but is unlikely to have any control over it, and will have little say over the investment strategy or distribution policy. The responsibility for taking these decisions will be on the shoulders of the family’s trusts trustees. Yet despite having little control or say over the vast fortune, he is still treated by the press and everyone else as if it is his.
Vanity Fair described Hugh as ‘baby-faced’ and ‘absurdly rich’ – but the estate is not technically his it is owned by the family’s trustees.
Most heirs surround themselves by those who have similar pressures and concerns, which is why it is not surprising that Gerald was so close to the Queen and Prince Charles. However, unlike the Queen or Prince Charles Gerald never thought he would inherit the title or the vast family fortune. His uncle was the Duke, but he died without heirs and so his father Robert inherited the title and the estate, which then put Gerald first in line.
Gerald was brought up in a remote part of Northern Ireland and lived a simple rural, unaffected, unspoilt life with aspirations of being a beef farmer in Northern Ireland. Not for him the life of chauffeured limousines, even after he became the Duke he would prefer to drive himself when in the country in a battered old land rover wearing baggy corduroys.
Like his father, Hugh has inherited the title and the estate in his twenties. Hugh is currently working as an account manager at a coffee recycling firm, which collects waste coffee, grounds and converts them into bio fuels and biomass pellets. On his father inheriting the title and becoming a trustee of the estate, Gerald was forced to abandon his dream of a career in the Armed Forces. Quite probably, the trustees of the family’s trusts will have similar plans for Hugh.
The pressure of being a Duke and head of a vast fortune, accompanied by the vast number of charitable functions he is expected to attend nearly led Gerald to a nervous breakdown for some years ago. He had so much handed to him on a plate and so much was expected of him he nearly cracked under the pressure, despite having experienced trustees doing most of the work for him. As I learned from my experience dealing with London land owners, it is hard for them to find something of which they are proud. I remember driving my client, the heir to the title and a vast London estate to our next meeting in my battered old car for which I apologised. His response was ‘Don’t be ashamed, you should be proud, I have never earned money to buy a car, they are all given to me’.
This is why Gerald’s success in becoming a commanding officer in the Territory Army was so important to him. His promotion was entirely due to his own efforts.
How will Hugh rise to the burdens and challenges of being a Duke?
In 1992 his father told the Independent ‘My main object will be to teach himself self-discipline and a sense of duty. He’s been born with the longest silver spoon anyone can have, but he can’t go through life sucking on it. He has to put back what he has been given.
If you would like to discuss your succession, estate, or privacy planning with Caroline or wish to talk to any of her colleagues on dispute resolution, matrimonial or other issues facing UHNW families please contact Svetlana on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3740 7422.