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Carer to Belsize Park widow wins High Court battle against TV heir hunter over £1.3million legacy

Picture shows Tanya Vasileva, 39, outside London's High Court. She has won her battle  against TV heir hunter Peter Birchwood over the £1.3m estate of holocaust survivor Gertrude Stanley. Picture: Sian Harrison Picture shows Tanya Vasileva, 39, outside London's High Court. She has won her battle against TV heir hunter Peter Birchwood over the £1.3m estate of holocaust survivor Gertrude Stanley. Picture: Sian Harrison

Thursday, July 10, 2014
10:34 AM

The devoted carer of an elderly widow who fled the Nazis has triumphed over a TV-featured heir hunter in a High Court battle over the widow’s £1.3million legacy.

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Picture shows Gertrude Stanley entertaining guests at the Britannia Hotel, Hampstead, with her piano playing.  Mrs Stanley's carer, Tanya Vasileva, won her High Court case against TV heir hunter, Peter Birchwood, over the Holocaust survivor's £1.3m fortune. Picture: Sian HarrisonPicture shows Gertrude Stanley entertaining guests at the Britannia Hotel, Hampstead, with her piano playing. Mrs Stanley's carer, Tanya Vasileva, won her High Court case against TV heir hunter, Peter Birchwood, over the Holocaust survivor's £1.3m fortune. Picture: Sian Harrison

Tanya Vasileva looked after her friend Gertrude Stanley – who had made her home in London after fleeing the Nazis on the eve of the Second World War – as the octogenarian’s health gradually deteriorated.

Mrs Stanley died, aged 89, believing she had no living relatives – her sister having been killed in a concentration camp – and promised her Hampstead flat to Miss Vasileva in return for the years of care her friend had selflessly provided.

But she made no will and a legal wrangle ensued after professional genealogist Peter Birchwood – who has appeared on the BBC series Heir Hunters – traced two distant cousins of Mrs Stanley.

During a hearing in London, the court heard Mrs Stanley had experienced the horror of fleeing from Vienna and arrived in London in May 1939, when she was 19.

She and her husband, Lawrence, lived together in their flat in Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, for 48 years, until his death in 1994.

The couple never had any children and, knowing that her sister was dead, Mrs Stanley believed she had no blood relatives left.

The court heard that, despite her sizeable fortune – most of which was discovered in bank accounts and shares following her death – the widow lived a humble existence.

She was also a hoarder and she still had the suitcases her sister had packed for her thwarted escape bid – as well as her husband’s wartime army uniform.

Following her death in December 2009, Miss Vasileva – who had cared part-time for the widow since 2005 while also holding down two jobs – moved into her flat.

Acting on behalf of Mrs Stanley’s estate, Mr Birchwood argued Miss Vasileva was a “trespasser” who should be ousted from the property and made to pay £50,000 for her years of rent-free occupation.

But a judge ruled Mrs Stanley did promise the flat to her carer and said Miss Vasileva had “done her best” to look after the widow in her final years.

Speaking after the case Miss Vasileva said: “I looked after her but we weren’t just friends, we were more like grandmother and granddaughter, we were very close.

“She was an extremely intelligent woman and I have some lovely memories of our time together. She will always be in my heart.”

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