I don’t think I’ve written here about an Inheritance Act claim, in which the claimant disputes the way in which the estate of a deceased person is disposed of. However, perhaps it is about time I did so, as these claims have much in common with family law (they are usually made by members of the deceased’s family) and, it seems, they are becoming increasingly common.
The ‘Inheritance Act’ to which I refer is the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, which provides that certain people may make a claim against the estate on the ground that the disposition of the deceased’s estate effected by his Will or the law relating to intestacy, or the combination of his Will and that law, is not such as to make reasonable financial provision for them. The Act lists the people who can make the claim, and they include the deceased’s spouse or former spouse, their cohabitee, their child and anyone who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained by the deceased. For further information about Inheritance Act claims, see this post.
In the case Ames v Jones & Others the claim was being made by the daughter of the deceased. The facts of the case were a little complicated (involving various family businesses), but were essentially as follows. The deceased (Michael) was married twice. The claimant, Danielle, was the only child of his first marriage. Michael died on 1 June 2013, leaving a net estate of £1,049,414. By his Will he left his entire estate to his second wife Elaine should she survive him, failing which he left 40 per cent to Danielle, and the balance to be divided equally between four grandchildren. Elaine did survive him, so the estate passed to her. Danielle made a claim against the estate.
As mentioned above, Danielle had to show that her father’s Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her. In determining whether the Will failed to make reasonable provision for her and (if so) what would be reasonable, the court had to have regard to the matters listed in section 3(1) of the Act, in particular Danielle’s financial needs and resources, Elaine’s financial needs and resources, any obligations which Michael had towards Danielle and Elaine, and the size of the estate.
The judge, Mr Recorder Halpern QC, found that Danielle was an unsatisfactory and unreliable witness. She failed to prove her financial needs and resources and he was therefore unable to reach a conclusion as to whether she and her partner were unable to make ends meet, as she claimed. She had also failed to prove that she was unable to obtain work, leaving the judge to conclude that her lack of employment was a lifestyle choice. That alone, he said, was sufficient to defeat her claim.
On the other hand, Elaine did require the entire estate to meet her reasonable needs.
Further to this, even if Danielle had satisfied him as to her needs and resources the judge would still have found the Will to have been reasonable, given that Danielle is an adult who is fit to work, whilst Elaine was Michael’s wife and partner for over 30 years and is past working age.
Danielle’s claim was therefore dismissed.
Given the evidence, or lack of it, the decision was surely an easy one to come to. However, Danielle surely always had an uphill task to prove her case, given the relatively modest size of the estate. After all, as her counsel acknowledged, other things being equal, a wife is likely to have a higher moral claim than an adult child.
The full report of Ames v Jones can be read here.
Photo by jridgewayphotography via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.