Inheritance Act Claim by Dependant Partner Wins at Trial

Contentious probate lawyer, Naomi Ireson, looks at the decision in Wright-Gordon v Legister [2014] EWHC 2041 (Ch)

Wright-Gordon v Legister is one of the few reported cases of a cohabitant (in the normal sense of the word) claiming under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 as a dependant.

The claimant, Arlene Wright-Gordon (“Arlene”), won her Inheritance Act claim at trial in January 2014.

Arlene made a claim against the estate of Alonzo Legister (“Alonzo”).  Alonzo died intestate (without a Will) on 4 February 2012, aged 69. Arlene was 41 years old. As Alonzo died intestate, his estate was to be distributed amongst his siblings. No provision was made for Arlene. The net value of Alonzo’s estate was in the region of £274,000.

It was Arlene’s case that she cohabited with Alonzo, though she accepted she did not live with him in the same household as his wife for the whole of the two year period immediately prior to his death so as to claim under s(1)(ba) of the 1975 Inheritance Act. She was therefore limited to making a claim under s1 (1)(e) of the Inheritance Act claim as somebody who was financially maintained by Alonzo, immediately before he died.

Arlene and Alonzo engaged in a relationship and cohabited on/off for several years. In 2004 Arlene moved into Alonzo’s house and they lived together as if they were man and wife until their relationship ended in 2007. In 2007 Arlene became involved with another man, whom she later married. In 2010, Arlene’s marriage broke down and she returned to live with Alonzo in his house. Alonzo’s brother, Ivan, lived with them also. It was Ivan who was the defendants’ main witness as it was he who had been living with both Arlene and Alonzo and was witness to their relationship.

Arlene said that she and Alonzo were in an intimate relationship but Ivan contested this, suggesting she was merely a lodger who undertook household duties in return for her accommodation.

He said Arlene was provided with rent free accommodation in exchange for which she did some household chores. Arlene countered that the level of chores did not outweigh the value of the rent free accommodation and thus she was maintained by Alonzo.

The Judge had no doubt that Alonzo provided Arlene with accommodation and said she was “very much more than the mere lodger”. The Judge went on to say “she was an integral part of the household”. The Judge was not at all persuaded that Arlene’s services (cleaning, washing, cooking etc) gave full valuable considerable for the accommodation provided by Alonzo. The Judge adopted a common sense approach which had regard to the nature of their relationship and the services provided. 

Arlene was forced to vacate Alonzo’s house shortly after his death and moved elsewhere. She had two adult children who had left home. Her income met her outgoings, but she had no surplus. She had no significant savings or capital and she had debts which included her litigation costs.

At trial Arlene was awarded two years rent (£13,200) and a lump sum of £3,300 to help with her resettlement expenses.

If you think you may have an Inheritance Act claim similar to Arlene’s or wish to discuss an inheritance dispute, please contact us on 0808 139 1598