Whilst a person may leave their estate to whomever they wish in their will, the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) does make provision for those who might reasonably expect an inheritance under someone’s estate but are excluded or would receive less then they contend they reasonably need to bring a claim for “reasonable financial provision”. Even then, however, this does not afford every potential beneficiary an opportunity to do so. Instead, the Act limits the scope of persons who can apply by reference to specified categories of persons set out in the Act.
Broadly speaking, these persons are:
Children of any age, including adopted children and step-children;
Former spouses/civil partners (if they have not remarried);
Anyone who has cohabited with the deceased for a period of at least two years immediately prior to the date of their death; and
Anyone who was being financially maintained by the deceased at the date of their death.
Generally, this means that no applicants outside the scope of spouses/civil partners, children or cohabitees can usually apply. However, in the recent High Court case of Antonio V Williams , Ryan Antonio (“Ryan”) brought a claim against the estate of Sharon McBean (“Sharon”), his aunt who died, aged 53 on 11 February 2016. Ryan was 12 years old at the date of his aunt’s death and the claim was therefore brought on his behalf by his father, Umar, Sharon’s brother. The first defendant to the claim was Jamaal Williams (“Jamaal”), Sharon’s son and sole beneficiary of his late mother’s estate. Ryan’s grandmother, Enid McBean (“Enid”) was also joined as a second defendant.
Ryan was born on 2 January 2010. His mother did not look after him and contacted social services when he was born to make arrangements for his care. Although Umar did assume responsibility for Ryan he went to live with Sharon at a property that she shared with Enid (and Jamaal when he was younger) as soon as he was discharged from hospital and these living arrangements continued up to the date of Sharon’s death. Indeed, in the early part of Ryan’s life the need to live with his aunt was necessitated by the fact that Umar was sent to prison for 17 months. This arrangement, however, continued upon Umar’s release and even after he had obtained his own accommodation, although Umar did make fleeting visits on occasions. These living arrangements were confirmed to the court by Jamaal himself.
Ryan sought to rely upon sections 1(1)(d) and 1(1)(e) of the Act in relation to his claim. These sections provide for claims by:
Any person (not being a child of the deceased) who in relation to any marriage or civil partnership to which the deceased was at any time a party, or otherwise in relation to any family in which the deceased at any time stood in the role of a parent, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family; and
Any person (not being a person included in the foregoing paragraphs of this subsection) who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased.
For claimants in the categories relied upon by Ryan, reasonable financial provision means “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance.”. It is settled law that this is not subsistence, but it cannot extend to any or everything which it would be desirable for the claimant to have. It is concerned with everyday living expenses.
Ryan’s eligibility to bring a claim
Jamaal accepted that Ryan had the right to bring a claim based upon an assertion that he was being maintained by Sharon at the date of her death. He did not accept, however, that he was treated as a child of the family by Sharon.
The court heard evidence from Jamaal and Umar regarding Sharon’s financial support of Ryan and that this extended to the bulk of his everyday needs. It also heard evidence from Umar that he struggled to hold down regular employment and had significant personal debts, such that he was unable to contribute much towards Ryan’s upkeep.
In the circumstances, the court found that Sharon had assumed primary responsibility for Ryan’s maintenance. This was seen in what she did and in her wishes as expressed in her will.
In addition, the court considered that Sharon did, in substance, take on the role of mother to Ryan and did treat him as her child.
Accordingly, the court was satisfied that Ryan had the right to bring a claim. As a result, it was then necessary for the court to consider whether Sharon’s estate failed to make reasonable financial provision for him.
Reasonable financial provision
Sharon had made a will the day before she died and although it purported to make reasonable financial provision for Ryan in relation to (1) two properties in which Sharon had an interest and (2) as one of three residuary beneficiaries, in practice it did not do so because the properties in question did not form part of Sharon’s estate and there was no residuary estate in which Ryan might share.
In considering whether or not Sharon’s estate made reasonable financial provision for Ryan, the court has to considered various matters set out in Section 3 of the Act including, inter alia:
The financial resources and financial needs which the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
The financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
Any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant or beneficiary;
The size and nature of the deceased’s net estate;
The manner in which the applicant was being or in which he might expect to be educated or trained; and
Whether the deceased maintained the applicant and, if so, the length of time for which and basis on which the deceased did so, and to the extent of the contribution made by way of maintenance.
That Ryan received nothing from Sharon’s estate did, in the court’s view, represent a failure to make reasonable financial provision for him.
Having regard to the matters set out in Section 3 of the Act, the court found that the following factors pointed towards that conclusion:
Ryan was maintained by Sharon for the whole of his life until her death.
Sharon met the bulk of Ryan’s everyday needs.
Ryan was still an infant child. He has no income or resources of his own which can be expected to remain the case until after higher or further education.
Whilst Ryan does not have a current housing need as he was by then residing with his father, Umar was unlikely to be able to provide all that was required for his maintenance in the period up to the end of any higher or further education.
Sharon’s net estate was sufficient for a substantial payment to be made for Ryan’s maintenance.
Sharon’s testamentary wish as expressed in her will was that very significant provision should be made for Ryan from her assets.
In the circumstances, the court made an order that Ryan should receive a lump sum payment of £50,000.00.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.