Inheritance lawyer, Naomi Ireson, reports on the case of an elderly cohabitant who has won the right to remain in his home after making a successful Inheritance Act claim against his late partner's estate.
An Inheritance Act claim was brought by 93 year old Thomas Warner against the estate of his late partner Audrey Blackwell with whom he had cohabited until she died.
The couple lived together for 20 years at Audrey's property in a small village in Gloucestershire. She passed away in 2014 leaving a Will which did not include any inheritance provision for Thomas.
Thomas was a wealthy man in his own right and was not in financial need. Nevertheless, he made a claim for 'reasonable financial provision' from Audrey's estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
What was unusual about his claim was that Thomas didn't seek a mlonetary award from his late partner's estate, but simply claimed that he should be given the right to buy Audrey's property at market value. This was the sole purpose of his claim as he did not want to move out of the property in which he had lived for the past 20 years.
The claim was robustly defended by Audrey's daughter, Lyn Lewis, who was the sole executor and beneficiary of her late mother’s Will.
Miss Lewis tried to evict Thomas from her mother's property. She too wanted to retain the house, together with the contents, which she alleged Thomas was keeping possession of unlawfully.
In 2015, Thomas succeeded in the County Court where the judge agreed with him that his claim to have the right buy Audrey's property could be deemed “maintenance” under section 1(2)(b) of the 1975 Act. The judge held that maintenance of a roof over the head of an applicant for 20 years clearly came within the definition of "maintenance" within that section of the Act.
Accordingly, Thomas Warner was given first refusal to purchase the property at the estimated market value of £385,000.
Miss Lewis decided to challenge that decision by going to the High Court.
Unfortunately for Miss Lewis the High Court was against her. In 2016 the High Court sided with Thomas, upholding the earlier decision that he should be given the right to buy the property.
Miss Lewis was still not done. She decided to take her case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that while Mr Warner needed a roof over his head, it did not need to be her mother's property and had sufficient funds of his own to purchase an alternative property. She repeated that she wanted her mother's property for herself.
However, Miss Lewis again came unstuck. The Court of Appeal held that Thomas was being maintained by Audrey up until her death and needed that maintenance to continue. The Court of Appeal determined that Audrey's Will did not make 'reasonable financial provision' for his maintenance after her death and that such provision was required in order to preserve the status quo for "a very old and infirm person who had been kept in a suitable house by the deceased for nearly 20 years of their relationship”.
The case demonstrates that the Inheritance Act can be widely interpreted and used in a creative fashion to ensure the wellbeing of those who are left behind. It also demonstrates how important it is for couples (married and unmarried) to think carefully about what will happen when one of them passes away and how this will impact on the survivior.
If you find yourself in a similar position to Thomas, having been provided with rent free accommodation by a loved one who has now passed away, then contact us on 01823 354545 for a free assessment of your case. Alternatively you can email specialist inheritance lawyer Naomi Ireson at firstname.lastname@example.org