Whilst it remains the case in English law that testators are free to leave their estates to whom they like, this remains subject to the statutory provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”). The Act allows certain categories of people to bring a claim against a deceased’s estate where “reasonable financial provision” has not been made for them under that person’s will or, if there is no will, the statutory intestacy rules.
Each case will turn on its own individual facts, and there are certain differences between some categories of applicants who can apply as regards what the court will consider and the remedies available to them. These issues are beyond the scope of this article. In this article, we look at a few recent cases which have resulted in successful claims for some categories of applicants.
Despite the world in which we live today, where more couples are cohabiting rather than marrying, the Act offers little protection for a cohabitee. Many couples erroneously believe that they are living together as “common law husband and wife” but this is not a validly recognised legal term. As such, there is very little protection for cohabitees for inheritance purposes if their partner dies and if the deceased did not execute a will with provision being made for the cohabitee. He/she will receive nothing from their partner’s estate in the event of their death, subject to the limited rights afforded under the Act.
In Thompson V Ragget & others  the claimant and the deceased had been cohabiting for 42 years prior to the deceased’s death. Throughout this period, the claimant, who by this stage was 79 years of age, had been financially dependent upon the deceased. The deceased had executed various wills over the years which included provision for the claimant, but his last will did not do so. Instead, he left his estate valued at about £1.5m to tenants of his properties in preference to his children, who it was said he did not trust and the claimant, who he believed would reside in a nursing home and therefore would not need financial provision from his estate.
The court granted the claimant’s application and made an order transferring the deceased’s cottage to her together with a monetary award to cover the costs of adapting the cottage and a care package including general outgoings.
It is often considered to be the case that an adult child cannot bring a claim under the Act. However, that is not necessarily the case. In Dignam-Thomas & Another V McCourt  two of the deceased’s adult children brought a claim under the Act. The estate consisted of the property where the deceased had lived together with his other adult child, who was the sole beneficiary under his will and was aged 72 at the time. The claimants were aged 61 and 68. The deceased had various ailments, and the claimants provided him with physical and financial support.
The first claimant detailed the financial support provided by her father over the years, including after her divorce, as well as household and car related costs and financial payments to keep the business she ran with her second husband trading after it fell into financial difficulties. She stated that there was a “two-way street of kindness and to help out”.
The second claimant, who had adult children, was almost blind and had multiple other health issues. Although her children cared for her, this was not sustainable in the long term. It was her case that she needed care and assistance for six hours each day. Her relationship with and financial dependency upon her father were similar to that of the first claimant.
It was held that the will did not make reasonable financial provision for the adult children. The court also noted that the deceased had said he intended to make provision for them as well as providing a home for their brother, who did not take any active part in the proceedings.
The judge was satisfied that the deceased wanted to secure housing for him and so awarded the first claimant £70,000, the second claimant £90,000 with the brother receiving the balance of £173,000.
In the case of Re estate of Singh (deceased)  the deceased, by his will, sought to disinherit his wife to whom he had been married for 66 years. The deceased’s will left his estate in equal shares to his two sons to the exclusion of his wife and his other four children, all daughters, the deceased wishing to leave his estate only to his male heirs.
In bringing a claim under the Act, the wife sought a sum equivalent to half of the estate, which she estimated at £995,000. Weighing up the factors and in particular the duration of the marriage and the fact that the wife had made a full contribution during the marriage when all the assets were accrued, the court determined that the deceased’s estate did not make reasonable provision for her and duly awarded her 50% of the net value of the estate.
Statistics reveal that approximately one in three families in the United Kingdom are now “blended”, i.e. they have a combination of parents, new parents and children from different relationships. Blended families can create complex financial planning issues as a result of a person’s wealth not passing to its intended recipient in the event of a family member’s death.
In Higgins V Morgan  the court had to consider whether provision should be made from the deceased’s estate for his stepson. The deceased had died intestate. Under the statutory intestacy rules the deceased’s estate would pass to his six surviving cousins and the estate of a deceased cousin, the intestacy rules making no provision for the stepson.
The stepson asserted that the deceased had told him a will had been made that provided for him and his sister, both of whom had been treated by the deceased as his children. Indeed, they had continued to live with the deceased when their mother vacated the property six years after she had married the deceased.
The stepson’s claim was calculated on the basis of his financial needs to meet an income deficit for ten years, to pay his debts and to provide him with a contingency fund. The estate was worth less than £200,000.
Taking account of the close relationship between the deceased and the stepson and the lack of such a similar relationship with the cousins who defended the claim, the court made an award in the stepson’s favour.
These cases serve as a useful reminder that whilst testators are free to leave their estates to whomever they wish, this freedom must be balanced against avoiding injustice to those who have clear financial needs which have not been met by the terms of the deceased’s will or the statutory provisions of the intestacy rules in the event there is no will.
The above are just a few examples of cases of successful claims under the Act, but they are not intended to be a complete list of cases in respect of all potential applicants who may be entitled to bring a claim under the Act. If you think that you may have grounds to bring such a claim or, alternatively, wish to defend such a claim and would like to receive advice in relation to the same then please contact Ally Tow in our firm’s Dispute Resolution team by phone on 07894 512 991 or by email at [email protected]
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.