Inheritance Act claim settles just before trial

With inheritance claims by adult children being heavily featured in the news over recent months we bring you news of one such claim that ended with a happy outcome for our client. The case serves as a salutary lesson for those who refuse to negotiate.

Case summary

Contentious probate partner, Naomi Ireson, successfully represented our client in her claim as an adult child under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The claim was defended and only settled by agreement a month before trial. The claimant received just short of one half of the net estate - including payment of her legal costs – an excellent outcome for an adult child claim. The defendant had to pay her own legal costs.

The facts of the case

The claimant’s father died leaving a Will which specified that his entire estate should pass to his eldest daughter, who was a child of his first marriage. The claimant was excluded from the Will for reasons completely unknown to her. At the time of the deceased’s passing the claimant maintained a close relationship with her father and was just 18 years of age. She had a promising academic future, but required financial provision from her father’s estate to fund her university fees.

One of the particular challenges of her claim was that the net estate was relatively modest, at around £100,000. Whilst this sum is not insignificant, parties must factor in the legal costs that are likely to be incurred in dealing with a dispute, particularly a protracted one. So when the net estate is small everyone involved in an inheritance dispute needs to be aware of the commercial and financial realities of litigation, as otherwise the entire estate (or a large percentage of it) can be devoured by legal costs – in which case the only ‘winners’ are likely to be the lawyers.

The Defendant’s conduct

From the outset it was therefore clear that the size of the estate demanded that an out of court settlement be reached at the earliest opportunity. Despite this the Defendant regrettably adopted an unreasonable and bullish position in her defence, forcing the claimant to commence formal court proceedings shortly prior to the limitation expiry date. The defendant foolishly refused to enter into a ‘limitation standstill’, meaning that our client had to either forgo bringing her claim or commence expensive court proceedings. Understandably our client refused to be bullied and she therefore instructed us to issue court proceedings. As a result of this both parties’ legal costs rose significantly.

The Defendant’s conduct continued to make life difficult and force legal costs to escalate. We invited her to mediate as a means of avoiding the expense of a contested trial. The judiciary expects parties to a dispute like this to engage in mediation and costs sanctions can be imposed on a party who refuses to participate. We were therefore surprised by her stance. We made it quite clear that we would be referring the Defendant’s unhelpful conduct to the trial judge and seeking a costs order against her, whatever the outcome.

The settlement

We can only assume that the Defendant’s conduct was based on a hope that if she took a robust stance the Claimant would give up – a high risk strategy at the best of times. However our client was resolute and was not going to be intimidated. We told the Defendant that our client was not going to back down and we therefore prepared for a contested trial, again incurring yet more legal costs.

A month prior to the trial the Defendant belatedly came to her senses, finally agreeing to enter into 11th hour settlement negotiations. A settlement was ultimately reached on the basis of the claimant receiving 45% of the estate, which was a very positive outcome given the facts of the case. The Defendant had to pay her own legal costs. It is a pity that the Defendant did not embrace negotiation at an earlier stage as it would have saved her a great deal of stress … and a considerable legal bill.

Inheritance dispute helpline

We operate a dedicated inheritance helpline for those who find themselves involved in a legal dispute over a will or the estate of a family member or loved one. Call us for FREE guidance on challenging the validity of a will or for details about bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 as was the case in this instance. Email us details of your dispute or ring us on 0808 139 1599.