Widow loses battle with husband’s first wife over mother-in-law’s £840,000 will

Maya Goncheva-Ash was ordered to pay her late husband’s ex-wife and his brother £50,000 in costs (Image: Champion News)

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A widow has been beaten by her late husband's ex-wife in a battle over his mother's £840,000 will.

Maya Gocheva-Ash lost her court fight with pensioner Cindy Ash over the meaning of the word “wife” in a will made by Don Ash's mother.

Tech company boss Don divorced his first wife Cindy, 73, in 2013 after leaving her for Maya, who is 31 years her junior.

He had a daughter with Maya in 2011 and the pair wed in 2015, two years after he divorced Cindy.

Two years later Don, a former broadcast engineer who had worked on the launch of Channel 4, died, aged 60.

The unexpected November 2017 death of the broadcast engineer led to a court fight between the two women over his half of the £840,000 estate of their mother-in-law Joyce Appleby.

Don Ash died in November 2017 at age 60
(Image: Champion News)

Joyce died in May 2019, 18 months after the death of her son.

In her will, made in 2009, she stated that, should her son die before her, his half of her money should go "to his wife Cindy Ash" – with the other half going to Don's brother Gordon.

But by the time Joyce died, Cindy was no longer Don's wife.

The two wives went to the High Court to contest the meaning of the will.

Maya, 42, a Bulgarian national, argued that, as Don's wife at the time of his death, the cash should go to her.

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But Cindy, from Harpenden in Hertfordshire, argued that despite being Don's ex, she was meant to get the money as she was specifically named in the will and enjoyed a "mother-daughter relationship" with Joyce, even after splitting with her son.

Joyce had "never liked" Maya, had "disapproved of her relationship with Don" and always referred to her as "that bloody woman," Judge Laurie Scher was told.

Maya denied that she and Joyce didn't get on, with her barrister Nazar Mohammed arguing that she should inherit because the "will is ambiguous and/or equivocal as to the meaning of the phrase 'his wife'."

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"Maya contends that the phrase 'his wife' refers to a surviving wife, regardless of the applied description of 'Cindy Ash'," he said.

When the will was made, Cindy had been Don's wife, but "upon divorce, Cindy ceased to be Don's wife. All ties of kinship were severed," he continued.

"The description of the 'wife' was to emphasise kinship and to ensure that the deceased's estate provided for the family.

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"The description 'Cynthia Ash' is no more than a statement of fact showing that she was Don's wife at the time the will was executed.

"The status of wife is more important than being Cynthia Ash, the person. Maya is the intended recipient of the gift under the deceased's will."

However Don's brother Gordon Ash told the judge he disagreed..

He said: "Joyce did not really feel that Maya was part of the family. Joyce disapproved of Maya's relationship with Donald."

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He continued: "Cindy had always been part of my family. She was not a divorced wife who was no longer a member of the family."

Gordon also denied Joyce would have wanted to leave her cash to her granddaughter, Don and Maya's daughter.

"The most important thing in my mother's life was animals. Animals came first and children second," he said.

"She would have been more excited to see a new kitten than a lot of family members."

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Explaining why he hadn't invited Maya to Joyce's funeral, Mr Ash told the judge: "I didn't invite Maya to the funeral because I knew mum didn't like her and also Cindy was going to be there and she was the reason for them divorcing.

"Cindy was effectively mum's daughter. Cindy had always been part of my family and I was not prepared to upset Cindy by Maya being there."

Tahina Akther, for Cindy, also told the judge that Maya was never meant to inherit Joyce's wealth.

"Because Cindy was not Donald’s wife at the time of the deceased’s death does not mean that the deceased’s intentions changed as to who should benefit from the will. If this was the case, the deceased would have changed the will," she said.

"Cindy's case is that she and the deceased enjoyed a mother-daughter relationship.

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"Joyce and Cindy continued to meet each other, regularly attending lunches and enjoying a loving relationship. Cindy visited the deceased in hospital.

"Cindy was family to the deceased even after Cindy's divorce to Donald. The deceased did not approve of Donald’s behaviour or the new relationship with Maya.

"Cindy contends she is the clear intended beneficiary as to the words 'his wife Cindy Ash'."

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Judge Scher agreed, ruling: "In 2009, when the will was made, 'my son's wife' means Cindy.

"In 2009, Maya did not know Joyce and the relationship with Don had not begun.

"Sitting in Joyce's armchair, those words meant that Don's share was to go to Cindy should he die.

"The natural and ordinary meaning of the words (in the will) is that Don's share should go to Cindy Ash. Every material point is in Cindy's favour.

"I find that by 2009 Cindy and Joyce had a very close familial relationship. Cindy described it as like mother and daughter.

"Joyce's relationship to Cindy in 2009 was not simply connected to her being Don's wife, she was in Joyce's mind a family member in her own right.

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"An intention to keep the inheritance in the family would have been fulfilled by the gift going to Cindy even if she was Don's ex-wife rather than his wife.

"Joyce did not mean the words 'his wife' to mean whoever was his wife at the time of his death – the gift was to go to Cindy.

"The gift goes to Cindy, not Maya."

He also ordered Maya to pay a court bill of around £50,000 to cover Mr Ash and Cindy's costs of defending her claim.

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