Children’s inheritance rights
We frequently receive enquiries from people asking , ‘Is a child entitled to inherit something from their parents’ estate?’ In this article we look at the rights of young children to make an Inheritance Act claim against the estate of their mother or father, and how the courts value those claims. We can usually deal with children’s inheritance claims on a no win, no fee basis, so if you require guidance then call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1599 or send us an email.
Inheritance claim against a parent’s estate
A claim was recently brought on behalf of two young children by their mother against their late father’s estate. The mother and father were not married. Very few Inheritance Act claims brought by infant children have reached court, and even fewer in recent times, so this case is particularly illuminating when considering the question, ‘Is a child entitled to inherit something from their parents’ estate?’
The children’s father had died unexpectedly. His last will predated the childrens’ birth and left the entire estate to this wife. The judge said that because the father had not consciously chosen to exclude his two children from his estate, the provisions of his will had limited importance. It was therefore a question of how much the judge would award them.
Children’s claims defended by deceased’s wife
The childrens’ inheritance claims were defended by the wife. She accepted that the children were entitled to ‘reasonable financial provision’, but agreement couldn’t be reached on how much of the estate they should receive.
The estate was valued for probate at £4.5 million, but the deceased’s wife argued that the actual value was in fact £3.5 million. The principal assets were a pharmacy business which the deceased established with his wife, together with their marital home.
In order for the children to bring successful Inheritance Act claims they had to show:
1) they fell within a category of eligible applications under section 1 of the Act;
2) that the disposition of the estate under the terms of the will does not make reasonable financial provision for them; and
3) having regard to the factors set out in the Inheritance Act, an order for provision should be made for them.
As they were infant children the court was also required to consider their education, which was relevant to the claim for payment of private school fees.
The financial provision claimed for the children
The sum claimed for the children was in excess of £848,000, while the wife valued their claim at just £254,000. The value of the claim and any award was to be largely determined by what the children needed in respect of their housing needs, childcare costs and private education.
The court said that whether the children were born within or outside of a marriage is irrelevant, but indicated that how they were treated by their father, may be relevant.
The wife asked the court to take account of how the case would be treated if pursued under the Children Act 1989. The court said the relevance of such was to provide general guidance only. She also sought to rely, when assessing the value of the claims, on the average costs of raising a child. The court rejected that approach.
Background to the case
The deceased and his wife met in 1987. She had a son from a previous relationship who the deceased treated as his own. In 1988 the deceased and his wife began to establish a pharmacy business, which is where his wife continued to work at the time of his death. In 1994 the deceased and his wife had a son who suffered with various disabilities and learning difficulties.
In 2000 the deceased and his wife purchased their marital home which they owned jointly, as joint tenants. The childrens’ mother began working in the pharmacy business and started an affair with the deceased. In 2012 the deceased and the childrens’ mother had their first child, Mattia and the deceased began to share his time between the marital home with his wife and the claimants’ mother.
In 2013, the deceased moved the claimants’ mother and Mattia into a flat which he jointly owned with his wife (and where they continued to live at the date of the hearing). The deceased later moved into the flat with them, leaving the marital home and in 2014 they had their second child, Gabrielle.
In 2015 the deceased’s wife commenced divorce proceedings. She obtained a Decree Nisi but the divorce proceeding were not concluded at the time of the deceased’s sudden death.
How the value of the inheritance claim was assessed
At the time of the hearing the children and their mother were living in the flat which was owned by the deceased and his wife. The claimants’ mother owned a two-bedroom flat of her own, along with a one bedroom flat and various interests in properties in Italy, from which she derived an income. Both households enjoyed a high standard living.
A claim for the childrens’ housing needs was made. Their case was that the deceased planned for them to move into a larger property in London with a garden and as such, sought the cost of a similar type of property. The court awarded a capital sum for housing of £70,950 to enable them to rent a four bedroom property (to allow for a live-in nanny to enable their mother to continue to work full time) while the children were in primary education and to rent a three-bedroom property once the children were at secondary school (when the childcare costs would decrease).
A claim was also made for private education. Their mother said that she and the deceased had discussed both children having the benefit of private education. The judge was not however convinced that there was an expectation for private education.
Childcare costs to cover the cost of a professional nanny were claimed. This was on the basis that the mother worked full time which provided the household with a good income. She had no support and was a single mother. The judge was sympathetic to the claimants’ mother. He said that where her income was to be taken into consideration in terms of the childrens’ future provision, so should the costs of a professional nanny which would enable her to achieve such income. He said that an award should include the costs of a professional nanny rather than an ad hoc au pair. He was not prepared to shave off amounts here and there as the defendant sought to do. He awarded a capital sum of £234,234 for the costs of childcare.
Overall the children were awarded a total of £386,290.60.
How we can help you
If you are wondering, ‘ Is a child is entitled to inherit something from the estate of their mother or father?’ then call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1599 or email us at [email protected]